Saturday 30 September 2023

More On Prison Crisis

I guess launching a massive advertising campaign for prison officers to co-inside with the naff Hidden Heroes Day was no accident, but as this editorial in the Guardian points out, the exercise will be futile if changes are not made in order to reduce staff exiting just as fast as they are recruited:- 

The Guardian view on prisons: staff will be key to any turnaround

The atrocious state of English and Welsh prisons is well documented. In the past six months, inspectors have issued urgent notifications about conditions in three jails. Earlier this year, a German court rejected an extradition request by the UK government on the grounds that the suspect’s safety could not be guaranteed. The view of Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector, is that 14 Victorian prisons are so decrepit that they should be closed down.

The outcry following the recent escape by Daniel Khalife from HMP Wandsworth drew attention to staffing issues. That day, 80 prison officers – 40% of the total – were absent. Now, a Guardian investigation has revealed that prison officers are quitting to work for the police or Border Force instead – a particular problem for prisons near ports or airports – while the Prison Officers’ Association believes criminal gangs are sending members to work in prisons in order to smuggle drugs and phones. Staffing levels in jails including Feltham are so low that psychologists have had to talk to young offenders through cell doors, instead of in therapy rooms. One prison officer described violence there as “off the scale”.

The crisis is so acute as to be undeniable. But the government’s response, of pointing to the planned expansion of prison capacity and staff numbers, is not persuasive. Boosting the numbers of recruits – as the Ministry of Justice aims to with a new campaign – will not solve the underlying problem unless retention rates also improve. Last year, almost half of those who left prison officer roles had been in them for fewer than three years. Nor will new buildings with more cells provide a solution. While the oldest prisons are dilapidated, modern prisons at Woodhill and Whitemoor, which are not overcrowded, are among those that have recently failed inspections.

Like most rightwing parties, the Conservatives value toughness on law and order. In the past decade, longer sentences have been handed down by judges, while court delays caused by years of cuts, followed by the pandemic, have led to a huge increase in the number of prisoners on remand. Currently they are 15,500 of a total prison population of 87,685 – which is not far off the all-time record of 88,000, and predicted to rise sharply in the next two years.

It might seem counterintuitive to make it harder to become a prison officer with the situation as it is. But the current training, of between seven and 10 weeks, is one of the shortest courses in Europe and a national embarrassment. The Prison Officers’ Association is right to call for the current lower age limit of 18 to be raised, and for in-person interviews to be reinstated. Quantity is no substitute for quality.

Conservative ministers have been responsible for some terrible decisions, notably Chris Grayling’s failed privatisation of the probation service. But the current problems cannot be blamed on an individual. The system as a whole has been badly managed, and its leaders should face increased scrutiny. Parliament’s justice committee has a role to play here. Its report on the prisons workforce is expected shortly. Endemic violence should be investigated separately.

A policy of locking more people up for longer, without any clear strategy for rehabilitation, may satisfy short-term political goals. In the longer term, it is more likely to increase crime than reduce it. Such failures deserve to be judged harshly.


The Guardian has been digging into the prison situation recently and points out there's serious problems with both recruitment and training:-

Criminal gangs in UK sending recruits to train as prison officers, union warns

Organised crime groups are sending associates to train as prison officers with the “sole purpose” of smuggling drugs and phones into jail, the Prison Officers’ Association has warned.

The POA, the union representing prison workers, blamed low pay and said online interviews were also contributing to the prison service “hiring the wrong people”.

Drugs remain a huge problem in prisons despite an increase in testing facilities. Woodhill high security prison in Milton Keynes was put into special measures recently after inspectors declared it unsafe, with 38% of prisoners testing positive for drugs.

A POA spokesperson said: “Organised crime groups realise that there’s a lot of money to be made by smuggling contraband into prisons. People can be recruited as a prison officer and go into [the jail] with that sole purpose of bringing contraband in, to make a lot of money. They can do it by themselves or for an organised crime group.”

The spokesperson added: “You get paid to train and you do whatever you want after that. If you have a good run, you don’t get caught and get out after five or six months having made a few bucks. It sounds a bit surreal. But that’s actually happening.”

Asked about the scale of the problem, they said: “In the vast majority of prisons, a lot of young staff could be conditioned into bringing stuff in, and other staff come to us with the sole intended purpose of taking stuff in.”

The age limit to become a prison officer has been reduced substantially over the past 40 years. In 1987, it was lowered from 25 to 20, and then to 18 in 1999 to boost recruitment in London and the south-east in particular. The starting salary increased recently to £30,702, or £35,931 in inner London.

The POA said staff shortages across the prison estate had prompted a cut in the training time from 10 to seven weeks. The Ministry of Justice disputes this, with a source saying that the 10-week course now included elements of “home learning”.

Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector of prisons, said it would be reasonable to assume younger officers could be more susceptible to corruption. “The age of officers who are coming through is younger, they used to be 21 minimum and that’s now gone. So you [have] got some very young people coming in. And that’s fine, as many of them are outstanding, but they’re going to need a bit more looking after,” Taylor said.

He added: “There are always two types of corruption [in prisons]. You’ve got the very sophisticated type of corruption, where someone linked with organised crime almost goes in as a sort of sleeper. But most corruption isn’t that – most corruption is that someone naive gets into a relationship, sexual or otherwise, with a prisoner which is inappropriate. And of course, once you’ve been pulled in, it’s very hard to stop.”

Taylor pointed to a case earlier this year at HMP Berwyn in north Wales, where 18 female guards were fired and three were jailed for having relationships with prisoners. “In those cases, you have to ask, were they recruiting the right people? Or were they training these people properly in order to understand the risks of potential corruption?”

The Ministry of Justice says it has made a £100m investment in airport-style security in prisons, buying 97 X-ray body scanners that as of October 2022 had foiled more than 28,000 attempts to smuggle contraband into jails.

But the POA claims these scanners are often not staffed because of a shortage of officers. “They are not manned every day, as mad as it sounds. At certain times of the day they might not be manned. So if you are working with another corrupt officer, he might say to you: ‘There’s no one on the portal today so come through with all the stuff.’”

The POA wants an end to online interviews and a return to in-person panels, including governors. “We are hiring the wrong people and people who can’t even look you in the eye,” said the spokesperson.

The union also wants an increase in the minimum age of prison officers to 21 and better gate security to stop contraband arriving with corrupt officers.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have bolstered the counter-corruption unit that works round the clock to clamp down on the minority who undermine our exemplary service with their dangerous behaviour and we will not hesitate to punish those who break the rules.

“On top of this, we have invested £100m in prison security such as enhanced gate security with X-ray body scanners, which has driven up the finds of drugs, weapons and other contraband.”


Interesting to note that Frances Crook does not agree with closing the large Victorian  prisons precisely because of the clue in their designation as 'local'. I agree with her:-

Don’t close the city Victorian jails

The Chief Inspector suggests closing Victorian jails, but I think there’s a better option

The newly re-appointed chief inspector of prisons, Charlie Taylor, has told the Guardian that he thinks 14 Victorian prisons should be closed as they are insanitary and not providing activities. You might think that I would agree with him, but I don’t.

He correctly identifies what is wrong with the prisons. Wandsworth is designated as having space for 1,000 men but is holding 600 over that. Even 1,000 is too many and is a number assessed by the prison service itself. Similarly the other prisons he identifies as being not fit for purpose are dilapidated, vermin infested and simply locking men up all day.

In the Guardian interview he identifies Pentonville, Liverpool, Leicester, Lewis, Exeter, Bristol and Leeds. There are other prisons built over a hundred years ago which have similarly been allowed to deteriorate. There are two problems with these prisons: gross overcrowding and crumbling fabric.

The Guardian article rightly points out that these prisons are holding twice, sometimes event three times the number of people they are meant to hold. Even the official capacity tends to allow for overcrowding. The daily number of prisoners often masks the churn of men going in and out, often on remand or short sentences. This means that the cells are not cleaned, they cannot get cleaning materials or decent clothing. When I visited prisons I often found men shuffling around in misshapen filthy jogging bottoms, with shoes that didn’t fit. They don’t get pyjamas so have to sleep and live in these clothes sometimes for weeks.

Sharing a cell not much bigger than a shop changing room with a stranger and an open toilet and a window that opens only a crack so there is no ventilation is hardly conducive to encouraging a healthy and clean lifestyle.

It’s not the Victorian building that is the seat of the problem. Remember that Oxford prison was turned into a very expensive luxury Malmaison hotel using the cells as rooms. A standard cell room costs £359 a night. The Victorians could build. The buildings often have good sight lines, natural light and ventilation. It’s the fact that far too many men are crammed in and the buildings have not been maintained so they are crumbling, rat infested and putrid.

The argument in favour of keeping the city based jails is that they are close to people’s families, to local services including housing and health, and can be supported by voluntary organisations. They also feel local to the men detained in them. They are all going to be released sooner or later and as we all know, the best hope of leading a good and useful life on release is someone to love you, somewhere to live and something to do. All this is more achievable in people reside in prisons local to their city homes.

Is the government investing in these prisons? No. It is spending billions building huge out of town jails that are dislocated from services and communities. Berwyn prison on the outskirts of Wrexham holds men mainly from Liverpool and Manchester. It was built to force the majority of men to share cells and without sufficient activity, education, health or work facilities for the 2,000 plus men.

We don’t need more prisons. We need fewer prisons. But if we are going to have prisons they should not be crowded, they should be clean and airy and healthy with education and work opportunities so that the men, and women, have something useful to do each day.

We should look to a prison population of perhaps 30,000 men who could be housed decently in city jails if there was investment in buildings and activities. Resources could be diverted to community resources following the principles of ‘justice reinvestment’.

Now that would be a policy for the next government.

Frances Crook

Thursday 28 September 2023

Wise Words

A week ago a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of General Lord Ramsbotham was held at St Margaret's Church Westminster and by all accounts it was an extremely moving event, celebrating the life and work of a remarkable man and extremely good friend of probation. In view of the recent final report of HMI Justin Russell, I was reminded of Lord Ramsbotham's Report People Are Not Things: The Return of Probation to The Public Sector published in May 2019. 

In all the excitement of what was going on at the time, I don't think we gave it much coverage on here, but now and with the benefit of hindsight, I think it's worth taking a closer look, not least because the present situation cannot continue. The report is full of wise words, concise analysis, sound advice but above all, is person-centred and not bureaucratically-focussed.   

The author was absolutely clear regarding what should happen:-  


From all this I deduce that: 

a. There is no reason why probation should not be returned to public ownership, but that return will require a great deal of preliminary work, which must not be rushed, but the role and purpose of probation must be defined. 
(1) Many respondents believe that the traditional ethos still runs deep, and there are likely to be sufficient numbers of good people to provide an organisational infrastructure. 
b. To judge from the JCS, NAO, PAC and HMCIOP reports, currently probation is in a parlous state, there having been no strategic direction since the introduction of TR, from the MoJ, NOMS or HMPPS. 

c. Probation should be considered in the context of a review of the CJS, and not in isolation, and any review must include all the partners who are essential to the delivery of probation services. 

d.  Anyone tasked with reviewing the delivery of probation services must take account of the conclusions and recommendations, mentioned in this report, of the JCS, the NAO, the PAC and HMCIOP. 

e. HMPPS should be abolished, and the Probation Service regarded as separate from, and different to, the Prison Service, under its own Director General. 

f. The provision of probation services should be regarded as a local rather than a national responsibility. 

g. Probation should be organised to conform with existing local government, police and justice boundaries, rather than DWP ones. 

h. If organised regionally smaller commissioning areas should be considered. 

i. Both the private and the voluntary sectors should be included in local provision, but neither should be involved in the governance of probation.


Reference my request the other day regarding Gravesend, I'm grateful to the reader for forwarding information and the reminder to all staff of their responsibilities including not discussing matters in open forums, including any social media sites or blogs.

Sunday 24 September 2023

Guest Blog 93

Process or Fairness?

After having sat for a year or so as a magistrate in the Adult court, I had my first courtroom experience sitting as a single justice in the Applications court. This unnerving introduction was in the courtroom set aside for such hearings and involved reading and signing myriad warrants including police search warrants, mental health detention and batches of Utility Company right of entry applications which recently have been subject to revised guidance. It was unclear to me if this court was open to the public or the press. But with the introduction of the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) in 2015 designed with admirable ambition to provide efficient and speedy summary for low order, non-imprisonable offences (mainly traffic) that the format and pace of justice moved up a gear!

My first introduction to SJP was quite an instructive one. Located in one of the back rooms at the court with two computer screens on adjoining tables feeding in the days listings of offences was the Legal Advisor. I was more than a little startled to discover that the applicable fines on a finding of proven, beyond reasonable doubt had already been filled in advance! The offences were mainly speeding and driving with No Insurance, with equivocal on line pleas set back for a trial date. As the listings numbered in the dozens, I felt under pressure to complete each case submitted in mitigation, often heart rending and at times near unreadable. It felt unsettling and unethical to my understanding of open and accountable justice. It was clear that the public/press were excluded from this procedure.

One of the more concerning aspects of the SJP process that I struggled with was defendants submitting incomplete information, (literacy and language barriers appeared prominent reasons for this) particularly on financial means. This set in motion an automatic default calculation of 'presumed income' of £440 which often meant with fines, costs and surcharge that sums of money of hundreds of pounds would be deducted on notification. I raised this concern during this period, but the pressures of time meant that further discussion was considered inappropriate.

Often pleas of mitigation seemed to be solidly grounded, that is to say domestic circumstances that might elicit a more favourable penalty in open court would not be fully explored in what was a often experienced as a hothouse sentencing environment.

The submissions to the SJP are premised on early guilty pleas, but where equivocal pleas were entered in my experience the matter was either put back or listed for the traffic court.

But the decision on guilt was that of the single magistrate, with the formulaic 'proven ' entered on the sentencing outcome notice. My expressed concern again was that the sheer weight of SJP cases often meant decision making was hurried and presumptive.

I seldom heard any murmurings of doubt on the SJP process from colleagues, other than the volume of cases dealt with and my reservations when shared on open justice appeared to be side-lined when SJP was considered low end offending that merited process over fairness to defendants.

The Magistrates Association did pick up, albeit late in the day, the disquiet over utility entry warrants and this acted as a catalyst for opening up the SJP to wider scrutiny and openness.

All magistrates on the Adult court rota (6 months timeline) were assigned SJP sittings. It was assumed at first that half day sittings would be sufficient to accommodate this. But once the stark reality of increased volume prosecutions kicked in, expanded to include matters such as TV licencing and with tentative plans to invoke motoring disqualifications (with rights of appeal) as integral to this, whole day sittings were included. SJP was favoured by some colleagues who appeared to revel in the intensity of such busy sittings. But many others (myself included) felt distinctly uncomfortable with this form of closed and opaque justice.

By 2020 the number of case heard via SJP had reached a staggering 535,000 according to the court service and any judicial murmurings of residual concern seemed to go unnoticed. I was often bemused by listening to some of my colleagues in the retiring room extol with almost fetishistic glee the number of such cases they had completed (processed!) in one sitting. I did flag up my misgivings on how this might square with open justice, in the sense that the financial and penal consequences of a criminal conviction were impacting unfairly on those with the least means. But such concerns seemed not to matter. I do not want to impugn the motives of colleagues, given the busy court that I sat in. But SJP seemed very much like a Cinderella feature, with an eager willingness by some to change their rota so that the enthusiasts had the choice to sit.

The House of Commons Justice Select Committee in its 2022 report supported moves to widen access to justice and the Magistrates Association have more recently sought to offer much needed solutions to the current impasse on open and accountable justice, especially around SJP. But it is significant that this move was as a result of some sterling investigative journalism, which meant this unjust gadfly in the magistrates courts now looks like it might be taken more seriously and who knows rectified?

A Former Magistrate

Saturday 23 September 2023

The Wrong That Needs Righting

I notice Sir Bob Neill writing on the Comment Central website has again sought to highlight the appalling plight of IPP prisoners and the seeming inability or disinterest on the part of government to do anything about it. This urgently needs sorting:-  

Shake up needed on long-term sentences

In a remarkable intervention earlier this month, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Alice Edwards, urged the Government to conduct an urgent review on imprisonment for public protection (IPP), labelling the sentences “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” Dr Edwards is neither alone nor the first in making this criticism, however.

Lord Blunkett, the Home Secretary who introduced IPP, has called them a disaster, while the late Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, a former Supreme Court judge, described them as “the greatest stain on our criminal justice system.” Long before them, campaign groups had been banging the drum for reform for years.

Although all of the above agree that IPP sentences are an anathema to justice, IPP continues to be a relative unknown to the vast majority of the wider public. It is, no doubt, one of the primary reasons why this problem has found itself firmly and perennially tacked on to successive governments’ too difficult pile. First, then, a bit of background.

The sentence of imprisonment for public protection was introduced in the midst of the Blair years as a new form of custodial sentence. Designed to appear tough on crime, they were indeterminate sentences which could be given to offenders who had committed violent or sexual offences and were deemed to pose a significant risk of causing harm to the public. Unlike a normal sentence, those given an IPP sentence would have to serve a minimum tariff in prison before being detained for an unlimited period until they were able to prove to the Parole Board that they were no longer a risk. Even when released, the individual would be done so under a life license whereby they could be returned to prison at any time if they breached the conditions of their parole, however minor the infringement (this element of in perpetuity could be cancelled ten years after their initial release, but that was never guaranteed).

The sentences caused both confusion and discrepancies and, inevitably, were reformed in 2008 before being scrapped in 2012. Their abolishment was not, though, applied retrospectively, meaning to date there remain just under 3,000 IPP prisoners within the prison estate, 97 per cent of whom have already served their tariff. Shockingly, 621 prisoners in this cohort have been detained at least ten years over their tariff, with 222 of those having received a tariff of less than two years.

Before reading any further, it's worth letting those figures sink in. These particular individuals have been in prison five times longer than the judge who sentenced them thought appropriate for their offence, and for which someone who committed the same crime at the same time might have been sentenced. That is not justice.

The problems caused by this shambolic scheme have been multifaceted but clear to see. For one, the Sisyphean state of hopelessness created has led to appallingly high rates of self-harm and suicide, with IPP prisoners two-and-a-half times more likely to self-harm than the rest of the prison population. In fact, over 80 IPP prisoners have taken their lives since 2005 – 9 in 2022 alone. The sentences also create a complete lack of clarity and certainty for everyone involved, be it the offender, their families, or, for that matter, the victims of their crimes. From a more philosophical perspective, the sentences undermine some of the fundamental principles of the rule of law. The IPP sentences handed down were neither clear nor consistent, and they did not provide equality, at times leaning on the exercise of discretion over the application of the law.

It is why the Justice Committee, which I chair, launched a comprehensive inquiry in 2021 on IPP sentences, to which we received the largest number of submissions we have ever received for any work we’ve undertaken. We published a series of recommendations last year ranging from mental health support to parole and resentencing, ultimately concluding that an irredeemably flawed system could only be addressed through a resentencing exercise enacted by primary legislation. To my disappointment, the Ministry of Justice roundly rejected the vast majority of what we had proposed.

While I understand that this task may prove both politically and administratively difficult, that does not make it any less right or pressing. For that reason, I have tabled an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill, currently before the House of Commons, which would oblige the Government to conduct this resentencing exercise, making use of a time-limited small expert committee to advise on its practical implementation. It’s worth stressing that although this would preclude a court handing down a heavier sentence than was originally imposed, it would not mean the automatic or quick release of every IPP prisoner. Far from it. Importantly, it would, though, ensure a determinate sentence is given, providing finality and certainty, a basic fairness that is afforded to everybody else, offender and victim, in the criminal justice system.

It’s long overdue that the three branches of the State – the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary – grasp the nettle on this. If the Government will not move, Parliament must move for it. I sincerely hope ministers will see sense and that fairness and justice will prevail.

Sir Bob Neill is the Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst and Chair of the Justice Select Committee.


News is reaching me of worrying issues at Gravesend PDU and I wondered if any reader would like to get in touch on a confidential basis if they have concerns or information. Contact can be made via

Friday 22 September 2023

The Case Is Made

"Last week a friend went to his usual #probation appointment but was told his PO was off on long term sick. The staff at the desk called around but there was no duty officer to see him. The waiting room was full of frustrated people waiting to see POs. It's looking like collapse."
The above is from Twitter yesterday, the day I took time to tune-in to a virtual meeting to launch the last annual report from HMI Justin Russell and to be honest it's only by hearing him deliver the headlines that you fully appreciate just how bad a state probation is in. Virtually every aspect of the endeavour is in serious trouble, bar supervision of terrorists where officers are restricted to a caseload of 12!

Justin appeared quite exasperated to me at having to deliver such a damning assessment on what clearly has become an utterly failing service, incapable of functioning successfully under centralised state control. He even pondered if probation knew what it was about anymore - are officers referral agents or change agents? Virtually all the experienced staff have gone; training is not very good; supervision is poor or absent; bureaucracy and form-filling is stifling; caseloads are unmanageable; new recruits are leaving; sickness levels are high; OMiC is a disaster and a service that has a billion pound budget, employs 20,000 staff has no distinctive professional head. It's pretty clear what he thinks of 'One HMPPS'.

Yes, change is very disturbing and unsettling and probation has been through four major upheavals in recent years, but what sensible alternative is there if the bloody thing is broken and clearly getting worse? In stark contrast, locally organised and controlled Youth Justice Services provides a shining example of effective and quality practice, so for how much longer can politicians ignore the growing evidence that a return to local control and delivery of probation is both inevitable and necessary?

Ok, it's late in the day and as he heads for the exit, but Justin has provided the evidence and made the case, so seeing as we're pretty much in election mode now, can we all start getting behind a campaign to save probation please?

21 September - A farewell from Chief Inspector, Justin Russell

At the end of September, I will be stepping down as Chief Inspector of Probation after more than four years in the role. It’s been a huge privilege to hold this post and to work with such a great and committed team of inspectors and headquarters staff – but also to get to know so many of those leading and working in probation and youth justice services.

Since I became Chief Inspector, we have published 101 youth justice service reports; 57 probation inspection reports; 20 thematic reports and (a new product for us) 13 effective practice guides. We’ve also seen the unification of the probation service back in the public sector and a national Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve reported to five different Lord Chancellors and seven different probation and prisons Ministers.

My final two annual reports – for our youth inspections and for probation – couldn’t have been more different. While 70 per cent of our Youth Offending Service (YOS) inspections last year we rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’; only one of the 31 probation inspections covered by my final probation annual report published this week was rated ‘Good’ – and 15 were rated as ‘Inadequate’. The combined impact of the pandemic and of transitioning to a unified model, plus the legacy of Transforming Rehabilitation and chronic staff shortages almost everywhere we’ve visited, has been profound.

When the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the public sector National Probation Service (NPS) were re-unified I cautioned that this by itself was not going to be a silver bullet for all the problems that the Probation Service was inheriting. Real transformation was a long-term commitment, and re-unification was just the beginning of that journey.

Two years on, that prediction has sadly turned out to be true – with the performance of the service against our quality standards having got worse not better since unification. This is particularly true for the quality of work to assess and manage risks of serious harm. Two-thirds of the 1,500 individual cases we have inspected since the autumn of 2021 we have judged to be insufficient against this essential core function of the service. We’ve found chronic staff shortages in almost every area we’ve visited and poor levels of management supervision – as well as large gaps in whether the needs of people on probation that might have driven their past offending are being met.

In the longer arc of history, the most recent structural reorganisation of probation marks the final step from probation being entirely locally run and funded at the beginning of the 20th Century, to being an entirely national one in the third decade of the 21st, with probation staff now all government civil servants and part of a ‘One HMPPS’ structure.

Many in the service hark back to the days (not that long ago), when probation was a genuinely local service – for which they were accountable rather than run from Whitehall – which focused on their partnerships and abilities to act autonomously within them. Given our results from the past year, and after speaking to probation leaders and managers around England and Wales, I have increasing sympathy with this view.

The Prison Service will always need to be national, given the constant pressure on prison places and the need to manage scarce functions like the high security, women’s prisons, and youth estate at a national level. And some probation functions, like the management of terrorist offenders after release are best managed nationally too. But for the great majority of the probation caseload, all the most important relationships are local, with locally run and accountable partners. These include police services; local authority housing and social service departments; mental health trusts; and drug and alcohol services. To make the most of those partnerships, PDU probation leaders need the freedoms to commit resources and staff; to agree local contracts; to decide on investments in infrastructure and to be able to speak publicly to both defend and advocate for their area’s services. But they feel heavily constrained in relation to all these freedoms and flexibilities by current structures. It is telling that our inspection scores for youth offending services, which can do all these things, have been far better than for probation over the past year and if anything, seem to have improved, in spite of the pandemic.

In part, of course, this is because youth justice services (YJS) have much more manageable caseloads – far lower than probation equivalents. But I think it also reflects the greater resilience and potential for flexibility and innovation that’s possible with locally run and accountable services, for the most part now firmly embedded in local authority children’s services. These strong relationships are also cemented by local YJS management boards. These include senior representatives of all services with which the YJS will be working, who have the power to get things sorted within their own services on behalf of the children on each YJS caseload.

I recognise that another reorganisation of the service, and any shift in this direction would have to be with the explicit agreement of PDU managers and staff. But the time has come for an independent review of whether probation should move back to a more local form of governance and control, building on the highly successful lessons of youth justice services – 70 per cent of which we rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ last year.

My thanks to all of my colleagues at HMI Probation for all their hard work and support over the past four years. But thanks also to the services we’ve inspected. As we say at the beginning of every inspection report, without their help and co-operation our inspections would not be possible. I’ve been lucky enough to meet hundreds of probation and youth justice staff and managers across England and Wales in my time as Chief Inspector and I’ve never doubted their desire to do the right thing, even if that proved difficult in practice. I wish all them well for the future and hope for brighter days ahead.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Russell Reflects

Silence from the MoJ and HMPPS of course, but as HMI Justin Russell heads for the door later this month, it's worth reading his analysis of the last few years, not least in the hope that any in-coming Labour administration might learn something:- 

Chief Inspector's foreword

This will be my final annual report as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation after four years in post, so it is an opportunity to look back over what has been a tumultuous and difficult period for the Probation Service and to offer some reflections on the future as well. 

During those four years, the service has undergone yet another major structural reorganisation (its fourth in 20 years). It has had to change its entire operating model overnight in response to the Covid pandemic and then, like the rest of the public sector, had to deal with the long-term impacts of that pandemic on backlogs, staff morale and the partners it works with. This made coming out of the pandemic, if anything, even more difficult than going into it. Added to that has been the more recent impact of the cost of living crisis on staff wellbeing and living standards. 

The simultaneous impact of all these factors has been profound and is illustrated clearly in our inspection ratings over the past year. And it’s been evident too in the high profile serious cases we have reported on since I became Chief Inspector – including those of Joseph McCann, Damien Bendall and Jordan McSweeney. 

In June 2021, when the private sector Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the public sector National Probation Service (NPS) were re-unified into a single public sector Probation Service, I cautioned that re-unification by itself was not going to be a silver bullet for all the problems that the unified service was inheriting. Merely shifting large volumes of cases from the private sector into the public sector, I said, wouldn’t improve the quality of work that probation staff are able to do. Real transformation was a long-term commitment, and re-unification was just the beginning of that journey. 

Two years on from re-unification, that prediction has sadly turned out to be true. As this annual report shows, the performance of the service against our quality standards has if anything got worse not better since it came back together in 2021. 

Why is that? Part of the answer is the depth of the problems inherited from the Transforming Rehabilitation period. That applies particularly to staffing levels and caseload pressures. In response to a real-terms reduction in funding caused by a flawed payment-by-results contract mechanism, many of the private sector probation providers were forced to cut the number of qualified probation officers (often replaced by unqualified and inexperienced PSOs) and to scale back investment in other areas. This pushed average individual caseloads up to unsustainable levels in some local areas. 

Given that staffing numbers for the CRCs were never published, the extent of this staffing shortfall didn’t become known until re-unification, when it became evident that the service was thousands of officers short of what was necessary to deliver manageable workloads. Ambitious recruitment targets were set to fill these gaps, and an additional £155 million was added to the service’s budget, taking it past £1 billion a year. However, an influx of inexperienced new staff all needing to be trained and mentored has created its own problems.

Working remotely and receiving all their training online during the pandemic, new staff found it difficult to access the practical support and advice that comes with sharing an office with more experienced colleagues. And in the meantime, those more experienced colleagues have been resigning from the service in greater numbers. While the number of probation officers with up to two years of service has increased significantly (by 46 per cent in the 12 months to 31 March 2023) the number with five or more years’ service has fallen. 

But not all of the problems we have seen in our inspections since re-unification can be put down to the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms or the pandemic. While I welcomed re-unification at the time, and praised the way this transition programme was managed at pace, it wasn’t without its downsides. In particular, I regret the way that transition disrupted some of the positive innovations and progress that the better CRC providers had been starting to make. 

That is particularly the case in relation to Through the Gate resettlement services. Our final round of CRC inspections had shown that these services were making real progress in some areas thanks to significant extra investment in enhanced provision after April 2018 and some increasingly mature and positive relationships with voluntary sector partners. All 12 of the CRC areas we visited in our final round of pre-unification inspections were rated as either ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ for their Through the Gate services. 

Re-unification brought an abrupt end to these partnerships in favour of a new set of centrally commissioned service contracts. This left staff in many Through the Gate teams up in the air and unsure of their futures. As our recent thematic inspections have shown, the Offender Management in Custody framework, which has replaced Through the Gate services for those serving longer sentences, has performed poorly, and we found that it is not understood well by staff and prisoners. 

In the longer arc of history, the most recent structural reorganisation marks the final step from probation being an entirely locally run and funded service at the beginning of the 20th century, to being an entirely national one in the third decade of the 21st, with probation staff now all government civil servants. While that may have created opportunities for probation staff to move into other roles across government, and economies of scale in terms of business partner arrangements, not everyone has been happy with this change. 

Civil Service procurement and recruitment processes can be notoriously slow. Equipment that could be purchased in days, can now take weeks to procure; posts can take many months to fill; multiple layers of approvals and standardised and centralised commissioning processes stifle innovation and can feel disempowering for local leaders. 

To that must then be added the impact of the new, merged ‘One HMPPS’ structure for prisons and probation. His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has lost the separate Director General role for probation, which I had previously welcomed as giving the service strong and visible leadership. Past experience with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is that the day-to-day operational and political demands of the prison service can all too easily distract from the Probation Service and its particular (and very different) needs. The insertion of new HMPPS area executive director posts between regional probation directors and national HMPPS leadership will also, I suspect, feel like a downgrading of their status and influence to regional probation leaders. 

I know that strong concerns have been raised about these changes and it’s important that the voice and interests of the Probation Service continue to get the leadership attention they so desperately need. Many in the service hark back to the days (not that long ago), when probation was a genuinely local service – locally accountable rather than run from Whitehall, focused on local partnerships and able to act autonomously within them. Given our results from the past year, and after speaking to probation leaders and managers around England and Wales, I have to say I have increasing sympathy with this view. The Prison Service will always need to be national, given the constant pressure on prison places and the need to manage scarce functions like the high security, women’s and youth estate at a national level.

And some probation functions, like the management of terrorist offenders after release and perhaps of the approved premises estate, are best managed nationally too. But for the great majority of the probation caseload, all of the most important relationships for probation staff and the people they work with are local, with locally run and accountable partners. These include local police services; local authority housing and social service departments; local mental health trusts; and local drug and alcohol services. The Probation Service should be a key player in these partnerships, and it has a seat at all the important partnership meetings – but to make the most of that seat, local leaders need the freedoms to commit resources and staff; to agree local contracts; to decide on investments in local infrastructure and to be able to speak publicly to both defend and advocate for their local services. Local probation leaders are heavily constrained in relation to all of these freedoms and flexibilities by current structures. It is telling that our inspection scores for youth offending services, which can do all of these things, have been far better than for probation over the past year and if anything seem to have improved, in spite of the pandemic. 

In part, of course, this is because youth justice services (YJS) have much more manageable caseloads – far lower than probation equivalents. But I think it also reflects the greater resilience and potential for flexibility and innovation that’s possible with a locally run and accountable service, with YJS now for the most part firmly embedded in local authority children’s services. Strong local relationships are also cemented by local YJS management boards. These include senior representatives of all of the local services with which YJS staff and service leaders will be working, who have the power to get things sorted within their own services on behalf of the children on each YJS caseload. 

While I recognise that another reorganisation of the service, and any shift in this direction would have to be with the explicit agreement of local managers and staff, I think the time has come for an independent review of whether probation should move back to a more local form of governance and control, building on the highly successful lessons of youth justice services – 70 per cent of which we rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ last year. 

In the second part of this report, we consider the needs of people on probation that may be driving their offending behaviour – such as a drug or alcohol problem; insecure accommodation or a lack of employment; or poor thinking skills – and whether these are being met. The short answer is that they are not. We rated the quality of service provision as ‘Inadequate’ in 13 out of 31 of the local PDUs we had inspected by May 2023. These judgements were borne out by our individual case assessments, where my inspectors found that in only 44 per cent of the cases they inspected did the implementation and delivery of services effectively support the person on probation’s desistance. And for services like drug or alcohol treatment, the picture was even worse. In almost half of the local cases we inspected, the individual had a drug problem linked to their offending, but in only 29 per cent of these was delivery of services sufficient to meet that need. 

In an important new initiative, we have also started to ask people on probation whether they think their needs are being met. Since April 2022, the organisation User Voice, which is run and staffed by people who have been through the criminal justice system themselves, has been surveying and interviewing people on probation on our behalf in every local area that we inspect. Of over 1,350 people on probation who answered their surveys across 21 local PDUs, only 61 per cent said they were getting the services they needed, although the high number who said they didn’t need any services suggests that many didn’t recognise their own needs or the services that might have been available to them. 

The impact of the pandemic can still clearly be seen in the low start rates and long waiting times for the accredited programmes ordered by the courts and in the high numbers of unpaid work orders reaching the 12-month point without being completed. Here, too, high staff vacancy rates and poor enforcement and compliance have taken a toll. 

But it is in the area of public protection that my concerns remain greatest. The Probation Service’s ability to accurately assess and robustly manage potential risks of serious harm from people on probation was already its weakest area of performance before the pandemic, and has become even worse since re-unification. We have rated two-thirds of the individual cases inspected across 10 regions as insufficient. The picture is even worse for medium risk cases, which generate a majority of the murders committed by people on probation and so will often need as careful management as higher risk cases. Large caseloads have reduced the time that practitioners can spend assessing, planning or managing each individual case. In too many cases, this has reduced face-to-face appointments to little more than welfare check-ins, which is not helped by the reduced time that staff are spending in the office rather than working from home. And heavily loaded line managers (senior probation officers) lack the time to properly scrutinise the work of their teams or engage in the sort of coaching and support needed to improve the practice of large numbers of trainee or newly qualified staff – so mistakes are being missed. Across the cases we’ve inspected management oversight was insufficient in an alarming 72 per cent of cases. 

Time and again we’re also finding that practitioners are failing to draw on a wide enough range of information when assessing risk. Domestic abuse enquires with the police, for example, were made in only 49 per cent of the cases where we felt they should have been and safeguarding enquiries were made with local children’s services in only 55 per cent. A focus solely on the most recent conviction means that past evidence of risk such as violence against previous partners or evidence of weapon use or gang membership is being missed.

All of these factors were clearly evident in the high-profile independent reviews we published earlier this year into the supervision of Damien Bendall and Jordan McSweeney, which attracted huge media interest. While we did find clear failures in the quality of individual probation practice in both cases, there were also broader systemic issues that we are seeing time and time again in our local probation inspections and thematic reviews. These included overloaded practitioners and line managers with well above their target workloads; significant delays in handing over cases from prison to community probation staff, resulting in last-minute and inadequate release planning; incomplete or inaccurate risk assessments being carried out at both the court stage and start of supervision; and very inexperienced staff being handed inappropriately complex cases with minimal management oversight. 

But what of the future? While this has been a disappointing year on which to finish my term of office as Chief Inspector, I hope for better things to come. We now know that good quality probation practice makes a significant difference to outcomes. In an important research report we published earlier this year, based on an analysis of cases inspected before re-unification, we found that effective probation practice in individual cases significantly correlated with the outcome for that person on probation, as revealed by the Police National Computer and the service’s own data. In the cases where our inspectors judged that the delivery of probation supervision both engaged the person on probation and supported their desistance, the sentence completion rate was 24 percentage points higher and the reoffending rate was 14 percentage points lower than in cases where both judgements were negative. This shows not only that we are inspecting the right things when making judgements on quality, but also that those things make a real difference to the life outcomes of the people the service is working with. 

A new Chief Probation Officer has made public protection her number one priority for the service, and I’m pleased that HMPPS has accepted all the recommendations from our reviews of the Bendall and McSweeney cases. New staff have been recruited to provide the police and children’s safety enquiries that we’ve found missing in too many cases. A major recruitment drive is finally paying off, with the number of practitioners and senior probation officers starting to increase in the past 12 months. A three-year pay deal may encourage more people into the service, and there are some signs in our inspections that individual caseloads may be coming down, even if that is not yet feeding into the quality of practice. Staff are back in the office after the pandemic and seeing people on their caseloads face-to-face (albeit sometimes only once a month) and unpaid work parties are back out on site as normal. But most of all I sense a determination amongst service leaders and managers to improve. I’ve been lucky enough to meet hundreds of probation staff across England and Wales in my time as Chief Inspector and I’ve never doubted their desire to do the right thing. In the effective practice guides that I’ve introduced as Chief Inspector, we’ve been able to showcase the many things that individual staff and managers are doing right and the innovations that still survive – to balance what we’ve had to say in our inspection reports about what’s going wrong. And as our interviews with people on probation show, when things are done right it can be life changing (and sometimes life-saving) for the people involved, so I’d like to finish on a positive note by quoting one of them: 

“Probation has been really supportive of me and I'm so glad to have them. I was really worried about my future and probation continue to help me keep calm and focus on the future not the past.” 

Justin Russell 
HM Chief Inspector of Probation


Postscript - Keen observers might have noticed a staggering increase in viewing figures over the last week or so, just shy of 10,000 yesterday and 9,000 the previous day. I could pretend this is due to a genuinely massive interest in this blog and the world of probation, but sadly it appears to be as a result of 'bots' based in Singapore. I have absolutely no idea why, but maybe someone could enlighten us? 

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Official: Probation Is Broken

So, whilst the Director continues to post those desperate but upbeat 'opportunities' on 'X' to work in the South West Probation Service, no doubt with fingers firmly placed in ears whilst whistling in the wind, outgoing HMI Justin Russell confirms what we all know, namely the whole shebang is utterly broken and must break free of HMPPS. Here's the press release and he's due to be all over the media today:- 

Chief Inspector calls for an independent review of the Probation Service, publishing his final annual report

The outgoing Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, is calling for an independent review of whether the Probation Service should return to local control, two years on from unification into a national service.

The announcement comes as the Inspectorate publishes its annual report, which will be the Chief Inspector’s final report before leaving the post on 29 September 2023.

The Chief Inspector, Justin Russell, has published the following statement:

“The Probation Service is struggling. It’s more than two years since the unification of probation back into the public sector as a single national service. I said at the time that this was unlikely to be the silver bullet many were hoping for. Sadly, this has now proved to be the reality. Yes, there are staffing issues, yes there was a considerable impact from Covid-19, but as this annual report shows we have seen little improvement in our inspections over the past two years. The supervision of people on probation isn’t at the level it should be.

“Probation is, and always has been, a locally delivered service, working with local partners like the police, children’s services, and NHS trusts. To make the most of those partnerships, local probation leaders need freedom and flexibility to commit resources and staff to match circumstances and to be able to speak publicly to both defend and advocate for their services. Currently, they often feel heavily constrained and that they play second fiddle to the priorities of the prison service to which they are tied in the new One HMPPS structure.

“While I recognise that this would represent another reorganisation of the service and any shift in this direction would have to be with the explicit agreement of local managers and staff themselves. I think the time has come for an independent review of whether probation should move back to a more local form of governance and control. This should build on the highly successful lessons of local multi-agency youth justice services – 70 per cent of which we rated as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ last year.”


“Elsewhere in the report we highlight often chronic staffing shortages at every grade which have led to what staff report perceive to be unmanageable workloads caseloads and to the poor quality of management oversight of frontline practitioners which was of an acceptable standard in only 28 per cent of cases. Major gaps in the services provided to people on probation to meet the underlying needs which may have driven their offending are also identified, as well as ongoing delays in ensuring that court requirements to complete unpaid work or offending behaviour programmes are delivered.”

Public protection

“My main concern is public protection, which has been a consistently weak area for probation in my four years as chief inspector and has become worse since unification. The Probation Service must assess and manage cases where there is a risk of serious harm robustly. We are still seeing safeguarding enquiries with local children’s services being made in only 55 per cent of the cases where we feel these are necessary and domestic abuse enquiries with the police in less than half. 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 as evidenced in our Serious Offence Reviews of Damien Bendall and Jordan McSweeney.

“I am disappointed that my time as chief inspector has not concluded with a more optimistic picture. With staff numbers increasing and caseloads coming down, the outlook may be more positive, but it is vital that these improvements feed through into better quality probation supervision, which our recent research proves leads to lower re-offending rates. I’ve been lucky enough to meet hundreds or probation staff across England and Wales – I’ve never doubted their desire to do the right thing. And I sense a determination amongst service leaders and managers to improve. As I leave this role I wish them well in this endeavour – it remains a hugely important one.”

Summary of the HM Inspectorate Annual Report 2022/2023

This annual report covers the 31 local Probation Delivery Unit (PDU) inspections across 10 regions between June 2021 and July 2023.

Ratings: The results of these 31 inspections have been disappointing:
  • only one PDU (South Tyneside and Gateshead) was rated as ‘Good’
  • 15 PDUs were rated as ‘Requires improvement’ and 15 rated as ‘Inadequate’
  • the average (mean) score of these inspections was five out of a possible 27.
The quality of sentence management has got worse: when data for the most recent round of inspections is compared to the combined Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and National Probation Services (NPS) data for the same regions from before unification the percentage of cases rated as of sufficient quality was lower across all key quality questions.

Leadership and delivery: Only one PDU was rated ‘Good’ on our leadership standard and 13 PDUs were rated as ‘Inadequate’ on our services standard – with a strong correlation between these 13 and the services rated ‘Inadequate’. Ten services were rated as ‘Inadequate’ on our staffing standard, reflecting the chronic staff shortages we uncovered across England and Wales.

Case supervision: Probation practitioners performed better at engaging with people on probation during supervision. But, disappointingly, no element of the supervision process was delivered satisfactorily in more than 62 per cent of the 1,509 cases we inspected. Only three out of 31 PDUs were sufficient in assessing risks of serious harm in more than half of the cases we inspected a key reason why 15 services received an overall rating of ‘Inadequate’.

Comparison of case data pre- and post-unification: While we know that performance has been affected by Covid-19 and unification, we are concerned that there appears to be little improvement in our inspection scores during the sixteen months when our inspections took place. Gateshead and South Tyneside – the only PDU rated ‘Good’ showed that improvements are achievable. What does ‘Good’ look like?
  • a strong, committed staff group with reasonable workloads
  • a skilled and committed group of senior probation officers providing good oversight
  • good continuity of supervision – without frequent changes of probation officer
  • excellent partnerships, especially with police and children’s services.
Court work and risk of serious harm: Of the 31 inspections, 22 services had a court team based at the PDU, so we also inspect their work. Half of the PDUs we inspected were rated ‘Inadequate’ for court work and one-third ‘Requires improvement’. One PDU was rated ‘Good’ and three were rated ‘Outstanding’.

Our concerns focus on the lack of comprehensive risk assessments at the court report stage:
  • 51% of police domestic abuse checks had not been completed where required
  • 48% of safeguarding checks with local children’s services were not completed
  • 58% of home visits were not undertaken where we felt they should have been.
If the initial risk assessment at court (or at the start of sentence) is wrong, that error feeds through into poor plans and poor case management, as our Serious Further Offence reports have found (see chapter four). The performance of many court teams was adversely impacted by under-staffing. However, where our inspectors found good performance and high levels of sentencer satisfaction these tended to be because of good strategic planning.

Monday 18 September 2023

Action Required

Regular readers will be aware that about this time of year I highlight some selected motions that are being entered for the Napo AGM ballot, but this year I don't intend to, extremely worthy though many of them are. The reason is quite simple in my view. Probation as part of HMPPS and the civil service has been an unmitigated disaster; will not and cannot be fixed  and therefore with a general election only a year away, the only sensible option is to go all out for devolution. 

Fortunately Napo Cymru has provided the roadmap in the form of their Motion 18 and thanks must go to the reader in Wales for sending me the following, recently circulated to all Napo members in Wales:-

This is for Wales, but it is about the whole of Probation in England and Wales. Devolution away from Westminster can be and should be achieved in England too. I plead with my English Napo colleagues to get this motion well up the order paper for conference: solidarity with your Welsh comrades, who have a route map out of the nightmare that is Probation in HMPPS, and who might well then pave the way for the rest of the service, so two good reasons for English Napo members to vote for this motion to be heard at AGM.

Members can vote for 7 motions, so this doesn't have to eclipse other important debates, but this really ought to be one of them.

The motion itself is a short history of a heck of a lot of campaigning: the text is below and we could write a chapter on each of the bullet points about the work done, over years, under each heading.

So please, Napo members in England and Wales, get on the Napo website, go to the AGM page and when you vote for motions to be heard at AGM, put an x in the box for Motion number 18 as one of your choices:-

18. Out of Westminster, out of the Civil Service, separate from Prisons: Probation in Wales can show a better way

Conference notes:
  • the Thomas Report (Commission on Justice in Wales) recommends the devolution of justice;
  • the Gordon Brown Report to UK Labour “A New Britain” specifically recommends the devolution of Probation and Youth Justice;
  • First Minister Mark Drakeford, addressing Napo Cymru recently, said “this is for real”: concrete practical planning is underway, but the necessary legislation must be passed by a UK government;
  • the insistence of Welsh Ministers Mark Drakeford, Jane Hutt, Mick Antoniw on collaboration with Justice Unions;
  • the work of the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice (WCCSJ), specifically its Probation Development Group, and its collaboration with Napo Cymru;
  • Napo Cymru has worked with WCCSJ, Justice Unions and Welsh Minsters to establish the need to remove Probation from the Civil Service and uncouple Probation from the Prison Service;
  • the argument for the devolution of Probation has been won in Wales, but must be passed by a UK government to proceed.
Napo will 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.

Proposer: Napo Cymru


It's worth noting that the campaign to influence an incoming Labour Administration at the general election is assisted by the following composited motion endorsed at the TUC conference last week:- 

C19 A royal commission into the government failures on the probation service and criminal justice system

Received from: NAPO, POA
Motion 66 with amendment and 67

Congress recognises that in society there needs to be a criminal justice system that is fair, accessible and decent for all the public. Since 2010 the whole criminal justice system has fallen into disrepute whether it be access to legal aid, or a right to a fair trial. Congress also notes that for 13 years there has been major cuts to the Prison service, Policing, and Courts system

Congress is seriously alarmed at the continuing lack of effective investment in the Probation Service since its reunification into state control in 2021.

There is increasing evidence to demonstrate the disastrous impact of this scandalous situation by way of:
  • Unsustainable workloads and unfilled vacancy rates, meaning that it is not uncommon for practitioners to be holding case allocations of anywhere between 101-200% against recognised capacity.
  • Service delivery, as evidenced by the cancellation of specialised programmes for those convicted of sexual offences and a huge backlog of clients awaiting placement on Community Service projects.
  • Public safety, where numerous reports from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation have been critical of Probation Senior Management for not implementing past lessons and failing to develop systems that will create safe workloads and assist practitioners in protecting our communities to the standards expected.
This threatens the integrity and professionalism of Probation, before the service has been given time to recover from the egregious damage that has been visited upon it by incompetent politicians.

Closures of courts throughout England and Wales has seen a major backlog of trials; Wales has seen a major backlog of trials; cuts to the Prison Service has seen a demise in rehabilitation with overcrowding now the norm and we are still seeing unacceptably high levels of assaults on prison officers and staff across the justice, immigration and custodial sector – with well over seven thousand incidents in the last twelve months.

The above issues, which are the subject of a joint probation unions campaign known as ‘Operation Protect’, are compounded by the proposed One HMPPS’ restructuring programme and its threats to jobs.

Congress seeks public support from the General Council for ‘Operation Protect’, and for the GC to lobby the Official HM Opposition to clearly map out their future plans to restore Probation into a gold standard service within the wider Criminal Justice System.

Congress recognises that there is an urgent need for a root and branch review of the whole criminal justice system from policing to prisons our court system and probation service with emphasis on creating a justice system that is fully funded with improved terms and conditions so that we have a system that is fair, accessible and decent for all.

Conference therefore instructs the general council to campaign for a Royal Commission with all political parties so that these aims and objectives can be met.

Mover: POA
Seconder: NAPO
Supporter: Community

Thursday 14 September 2023

Praise For ROTL

A few days ago the Daily Mail published a photographic undercover piece about a female prisoner on day release (ROTL) from HMP Askham Grange, working a shift at the local McDonald's and returning correctly to the prison. Absolutely nothing unusual or newsworthy about a routine process designed to assist rehabilitation, but intended to stoke negative comment and hysteria from the paper's largely right wing readership. 

Sadly I suspect we can expect loads more of this as we head towards a general election with crime and punishment yet again seen as a promising battleground for attracting votes. Interestingly, it prompted this reflective piece from the politically conservative Spectator, reminding me of the days when crime and punishment was quite rightly not regarded as a political football:-  

Don’t condemn McDonald’s for giving prisoners a day job

In the aftermath of Daniel Khalife’s escape and recapture, prisons are in the headlines. Even the most commonplace events, like a prison stabbing, are being widely reported. So, too, is the revelation that ‘prisoners are working in McDonald’s’: that was the gist of an article in the Daily Mail which revealed that a female prisoner was flipping burger and serving customers. But rather than condemn this initiative, we should praise McDonald’s for taking on inmates and giving them another chance.

The female McDonald’s worker, who returned to Askham Grange in Yorkshire after her shift, is far from alone in being let out for the day: approximately 100,000 Releases on Temporary Licence (ROTLs) occur every three months. These releases mostly take place from Category D or ‘open’ prisons. Open prisons are low security establishments for inmates in the last three years of their sentence who are deemed to pose a minimal risk. They’re also one of the few bright lights in our prison system, which offer genuine opportunities for rehabilitation.

Not every prisoner at an open prison will be eligible for ROTL. Before such a privilege is granted a ‘board’ of senior prison staff will interview the prisoner and further checks must be satisfied. The local police will also be made aware and each prisoner’s licence will carry specific conditions which must not be breached.

Prisoners may be allowed out to attend a local college or university, spend time re-establishing family ties or to work for local employers. Release for work purposes represents about two-thirds of all ROTLs. Prisoners recognise that ROTL is a great privilege, and know a breach of conditions will probably mean being returned to a closed prison for the rest of their sentence. As a result the failure rate of ROTLs is just 0.2 per cent.

Prisoners working via ROTL often perform difficult and unpleasant jobs which employers struggle to recruit for. While I was serving time at HMP Hollesley Bay, an open prison on the Suffolk coast, large numbers of prisoners left each day to work in local slaughterhouses, kitchens and warehouses. They worked hard, long hours, rather than wasting their sentence staring at a cell’s walls.

Each ROTL worker pays tax and NI on their income, just as anyone else would. On top of that they pay a further portion (typically 40 per cent) of their net income to the Victim Surcharge fund, compensating victims. These prisoners also have to pay for their own travel to and from work, and fund their own food when they are absent from the prison during meal times. Taxpayers and victims are better off as a result.

More importantly we know, as the Ministry of Justice points out, that having ‘a job on release helps to support people leaving prison rebuild their lives, reducing reoffending and preventing future victims of crime’. The MOJ’s analysis suggests that prisoners who have any work at all in the year after release are between 5 per cent and 10 cent less likely to reoffend.

Prisoners typically either save what income they have remaining or send it to their families. As a result, when they leave prison they are more likely to be able to afford to live and have a supportive family to rejoin. Matthew, a former prisoner I spoke to who asked for his name to be changed, told me:
‘During the last 18 months of my sentence I worked via…ROTL…the wages that I earned enabled me to pay back my victims using the 40 per cent levy prisoners have to pay out of their wages and…I was able to support my wife and daughter who financially struggled due to me being incarcerated.’
Employers too are full of praise. James Timpson, chief executive of Timpson Group, speaks highly of the scheme:
‘ROTL is a fantastic route to long term employment for prison leavers, and for us at Timpson leads to an 85 per cent success rate. We have over 100 colleagues today leaving their cells and working in our business, and they are very valued colleagues, treated the same as everyone else.’
Many prisoners also use ROTL to get meaningful qualifications at colleges or universities. This access to education can transform lives. Jerry, whose name has been changed, left school at 16. In his mid-30s he was sentenced to five years in prison. At an open prison and with two years left to serve he applied successfully for a degree at a local university. Jerry said this ‘allowed me to develop my skills, rebuild my discipline and focus after years behind a cell door, and taught me commitment. I also met my employer through the university which led me to a new career path and a positive future after prison.’

Jerry now works full-time for that employer, and is aiming to finish the final year of his degree. A man who thought his life was over is now a hard-working, taxpaying member of society.

It’s harder to measure, but I’ve seen work on ROTL transform attitudes too. At Hollesley Bay, many of my fellow prisoners had never worked in an honest job. For decades they’d lived with the knowledge that if, or when the police caught up with them all their money would be forfeit as proceeds of crime. Earning honest, taxed wages showed them another path, to money that was really theirs.

Instead of being shocked that employers like McDonald’s are helping prisoners to reform and rebuild their lives we should applaud them.

David Shipley is a film producer who served time in HMP Wandsworth for fraud

Wednesday 13 September 2023

I Wonder Why?

I have absolutely no idea why, but a casual glance at the viewing figures reveals a staggering rise over recent days; over 7,000 yesterday; 2,000 before 9am today and 50,000 this month already. Maybe it's concern over race issues as I see the post and subsequent discussion on that issue has been viewed over 1,500 times. Or, being somewhat of a pessimist by nature, I'm assuming a malfunction of some sort rather than a sudden upsurge in concern for the Probation Service and its current plight. But hey ho,  here's something from yesterday's Morning Star:-  

Ministers must stop using probation as a political football

The service needs proper investment to recover from years of political meddling and to halt high staff turnover, argues Tania Bassett of Napo

The probation service is in a staffing and workloads crisis which fundamentally undermines the effectiveness of the service and public protection. Napo, trade union for probation and family court staff, is seriously alarmed at the continuing lack of effective investment in the probation service since its reunification into state control in 2021.

There is increasing evidence to demonstrate the disastrous impact of this scandalous situation by way of:
  • Unsustainable workloads and unfilled vacancy rates, meaning that it is not uncommon for practitioners to be holding case allocations of anywhere between 101-200 per cent against recognised capacity.
  • Service delivery, as evidenced by the cancellation of specialised programmes for those convicted of sexual offences and a huge backlog of clients awaiting placement on community service projects.
  • Public safety, where numerous reports from HM Inspectorate of Probation have been critical of probation senior management for not implementing past lessons and failing to develop systems that will create safe workloads and assist practitioners in protecting our communities to the standards expected.
  • Staff sickness has rocketed as result of poor working conditions and burn out from relentless workloads, with the main reason for absence being mental health and work-related stress.
The above issues, which are the subject of a joint probation unions (Napo, Unison and GMB) campaign known as Operation Protect, are compounded by the proposed One HMPPS restructuring programme and its threats to jobs, the service and the profession.

One HMPPS will see probation being subsumed by the Prison Service and shows a clear political agenda to prioritise the imprisonment of those who commit an offence over rehabilitation, reducing reoffending and reducing victims.

Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence said: “This threatens the integrity and professionalism of probation, before the service has been given time to recover from the egregious damage that has been visited upon it by incompetent politicians.

“It is high time that ministers stop using probation as a political football. Staff are exhausted by the working conditions and the never ending organisational change. The service needs to be left alone, allow staff time to breathe and go back to getting the basics right if we are ever going to have a world-class probation service again.”

Long-standing members of Napo, who have been in the service for up to 30 years have said workloads and working conditions are the worst they have ever known in probation.

One member said: “In 25 years I’ve never known it so bad. I’ve seen staff crying at work then having to go off sick.”

This is clearly evidence by the fact that attrition rates are at an all-time high.

Despite promises from ministers that they have engaged in a massive recruitment drive in the last years with over 1,500 staff being recruited, the figures suggest that new staff are not staying in the profession.

Lawrence said: “We are hearing from trainee probation officers that they intend to get their qualification then go on to jobs outside of the service. This just isn’t sustainable nor is it an effective use of limited resources.”

HM Inspectorate for Probation has echoed Napo’s concerns. It has cited significant staff vacancies right across England and Wales.

Chief Inspector Justin Russell has said recently that very little meaningful supervision with clients is being done due to excessive workloads.

In a piece of recently published groundbreaking research, HMIP found that high-quality probation supervision results in significantly better sentence completion rates and a reduction in reoffending. Clearly this is being hampered by the lack of time practitioners have to spend with clients.

Napo is seeking public support from the general council for Operation Protect, and for the general council to lobby the official HM opposition to clearly map out their future plans to restore probation into a gold-standard service within the wider criminal justice system.

Napo policy is also clear that the probation service should be taken out of the Civil Service, remain distinct from the Prison Service and go back to being embedded in local communities.

Tania Bassett is Napo national Parliament and campaigns officer.

Thursday 7 September 2023

A Lot Of Activity But Little Progress

I wonder what it will take for the Probation Service to be declared 'not fit for purpose' or the senior leadership less than 'excellent'? Yet another HMI report that can be summed up thus:-

"While senior leaders have demonstrated a clear commitment to taking these recommendations forward, and there has been a lot of activity to do so, there has not been as much progress as I would have wished in embedding effective practice or improving the satisfaction of minority ethnic staff."

Today's press release:- 

Race equality in probation remains ‘a work in progress’

HM Inspectorate of Probation has published a report reinspecting the work undertaken and progress made, by the Probation Service, to promote race equality for people on probation and staff. The Inspectorate last looked at this area of practice in 2021.

Read the report in full on the HMI Probation website: Race equality in probation follow-up: A work in progress.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “The disappointing findings from our inspection two years ago called for a follow-up report so we could closely monitor whether our recommendations have led to improvements. Unfortunately, not enough progress has been made.

“It’s clear that race equality – for people on probation and probation staff – remains a work in progress. While there is a commitment to improve the experience of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people within this area of criminal justice, there is still some way to go to achieve proper equality of provision and opportunity”.

This reinspection found:
  • still no national strategy that sets out expectations and plans for service delivery to minority ethnic people on probation
  • little evidence that probation staff had spoken with people on probation about their ethnicity, culture, religion, and experiences of discrimination
  • planning and delivery of probation services were worse for minority ethnic people on probation than for white people
  • dissatisfaction remains for minority ethnic staff, but there has been progress.
On a more positive note, we found no evidence of any disproportionality in the use of enforcement or breach of probation conditions, and most people on probation we interviewed did not feel discriminated against

Mr Russell continued: “The recommendations from our 2021 report made clear that there was still a significant way to go to making the improvements needed to better support Black, Asian and minority ethnic people on probation. So, it is disappointing to see that the needs of those with diverse cultures and heritages are still not being met. For example, at the time of our inspection, specific services for ethnic minority people on probation were only being delivered in one area.

“Major stumbling blocks to success remain such as a delay in funding for such services. Additionally, there are few training programmes around race and ethnicity to support probation practitioners, so they aren’t currently getting the support to learn and develop the skills they need for this area of their work.

“While I don’t doubt the commitment of local probation leaders to promoting racial equality, there is still some way to go to reassure Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff that they will be treated equally. The perception remains that there is a lack of understanding and action. This needs to start with better communication between minority ethnic staff and leaders at a local level.”

Minority ethnic people on probation

We found that there had been insufficient improvement overall in the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people on probation since the 2021 inspection. In the 50 cases we inspected there was still little evidence that probation staff had spoken with minority ethnic people on probation about their ethnicity, culture, religion, and experiences of discrimination, or planned interventions that were responsive to these diversity factors. Data from our wider local probation inspection programme showed that assessment, planning, and implementation and delivery of these sentence plans were worse for minority ethnic people on probation than for white people, and fewer services were delivered for them.

However, some of those we spoke to – including people who were new to the probation system – did tell us they felt heard by their probation officer, not discriminated against, and considered their relationship to be positive and effective.

We have recommended that practical training – such as sessions to improve cultural understanding and challenge discrimination – could be a solution to better and more effective practice. There is also potential to include people who have experienced probation supervision themselves to help shape training and guidance, and a need for probation services to provide culturally appropriate support services to improve rehabilitation.

Minority ethnic probation staff

Our 2021 inspection raised concerns about how ethnic minority probation staff were being treated, and we were hoping to see significant improvements in this area. Although a survey conducted for this inspection showed limited improvement in scores for the questions we asked, the perceptions of ethnic minority staff remain mixed, and not as much progress has been made as we had hoped for,

Many staff still do not believe that probation leaders and managers understand the issues they face, and there is a tendency for people to be grouped together without recognition of their diverse backgrounds and experiences. We know that leaders want to improve their support for Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff, and this has improved in some services, but we are still finding that ambition is not backed by meaningful actions.

While progress is being made in minority ethnic staff progressing into management positions, a substantial minority of minority ethnic staff do not believe that the recruitment process is fair and equal.