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.


  1. "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 first, my dear Splinterpants, we need 'PDU leaders' who *are* leaders; leaders who are effective, who haven't been tainted by the incompetence & abusive practices that have infected probation, who can see the value & purpose of, & the direction of travel required for, a truly independent probation service.

    We need leaders who will recognise staff as the keystones of an independent service as opposed to regarding them as processors of data, as a means to a bonus target, as cannon fodder.

    "the time has come for an independent review "

    And that will mean a clearout of epic proportions. The evidence is clear, hiding in plain sight:

    "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."

    I note that old timer Pearly Gates has once again put out a clear call (end of previous blog):

    "our job, our focus here, is to navigate Probation into a better place. Focus focus focus."

  2. These comments are needed but only seem to come when the Chief Inspectors are on the way out. I do wonder why they don’t say this when it becomes apparent- ie before it happens generally as we all knew where MOJ policy is taking us. Probation values are not seen as something to retain, we are now an extension of prisons sadly. Our professional integrity decimated by EPF, processes and a one size fits all approach to supervision. Every area in red or amber, 1-1 interventions ceased, no one looks at the admin side of the job and pants databases. I am sick of double inputting to satisfy a spread sheet.

  3. I don’t agree “all experienced staff have gone”. There are many with experience and it’d show if the probation service was better managed or had fought to remove its HMPPS shackles.

    I don’t agree with Justin’s approach either. For too many years has he said nothing and avoided laying blame at the buck stop. Instead he grilled, prodded, poked and abused the poor Probation practitioner with his relentless inspections.

    Probation directors have quietly stepped aside while Amy Rees and her OneHMPPS manifesto has taken hold.

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for the new chief probation officer to respond.

  4. When dame Glynis went it was clear from the reunification some direction but people just because this guy now tells us some truth it will galvanise the bureaucratic controllers. They will appoint a new inspector who will bring some new green flags and prepare yourselves it's going to get worse. Blue labour are still welded to their legislation of private sell offs so will likely pick up from grayling.

  5. "can we all start getting behind a campaign to save probation please?"

    I believe in rehabilitation and have always held probation in great regard.
    However, I find it difficult to see any part of the current service that I'd want to save.
    It's just gone so wrong and I believe too many people with the wrong mindset have been able to enter the service.
    Justin Russell is right when he says that probation doesn't really know what it's about anymore.

    "Its probation Jim, but not as we know it."


  6. It's that time of year again when I remind colleagues that the best way (while keeping your job) to express your contempt for the Civil Sevice is NOT TO COMPLETE THE PEOPLES SURVEY.

    1. No it’s better to complete it and score the worst scores possible.

      “Not enough staff completed the survey”

      … is easier to justify then …

      “100% of [non management] staff completed the survey with the worst ratings possible”.

    2. Via Email:-

      "It brings me no pleasure at all to report that it is People's Survey time again. Over the years probation staff have used the survey to report to senior management how they feel about workloads, stress, over bureaucratic process, lack of staff, bullying by senior management, racial discrimination etc and I think we can all agree, that little by little, step by tiny step, exactly nothing has changed. In fact, all of these things get worse, every year. So, it's time for me again to suggest the most sensible way of expressing our contempt for our civil service masters is not to complete the Peoples Survey. To put it bluntly, it's the only language they understand and the only effective message we have.

      Remember last year, they panicked and extended by a week to massage the figures? They care deeply about the numbers. If we can get the numbers down on last year that's a huge win and they will have to do more than hold some forced "all staff teams events" where some deputy director tells us they were bullied once (obviously terrible and wrong but also not a helpful story to share). They don't care at all about what you say in the survey and there's little they can do about your carefully worded complaints anyway.

      The best message we can send to the civil service is to reject its culture and this is a big part of it. Normally that would come with punishment beatings but this, this is a free hit. There's nothing they can do. Just tell your manager you have done it. They will never know either way. It's the perfect weapon. Use it!"

    3. Yes,yes and yes

  7. I agree the youth justice system is much better run and resourced. I was seconded there and found it far less stressful, more flexible and much easier to manage young people- plus spend more time with them

    1. I loved my secondment to YOS that is until some idiot PDU head said they wanted me to work half time for YOS and half time as PO (we are short staffed and you can’t be spared full time) so yes, carrying both a YOS and Probation case load and working at two different agencies, systems and locations. Said no, so another example of excellent leaders making excellent decisions as YOS snapped us all up. Just one way a number of experienced POs resigned ( remember we were seconded to YOS so would have returned to probation but they had to make the secondments impossible to manage didn’t they). Ahhh, excellent leaders……

  8. We supervise too many people who don't need it. There should be ongoing assessments of those in custody by probation to assess if they need supervision on release and then a report completed if they do or don't prior to release and the rationale etc. Also get rid of PSS and supervising those sentenced to under 12 months. GPS monitoring could be used for some cases instead and licences without supervision as a requirement. Supervision is a waste of time in so many cases and the idea that it helps to reduce risk is laughable since most are just Hi/Bye appointments these days anyway...

    1. The abolition of PSS would be a major step forward but we are still waiting for the IPP debacle to be resolved so I wouldn’t hold your breath

    2. "PSS" does not figure in this Probation Matters Blog's Glossary of initialisms - it is probably something that is obvious to most but not to long retired dyspraxic and dyslexic me - explanation please.

    3. Its the post sentence supervision introduced by grayling when he was trying to inflate the customer base to make crc's viable

    4. Thanks Anon at 17:48.

      Do you really think that is the reason those who advised Grayling recommended that he introduced Post Sentence Supervison?

      I suspect most of Grayling's advisers (judging by my interactions on occassions) really had hardly any understanding of how probation worked at any stage of the interactions between probation workers, convicts and others in the system - that was why the misnamed "Transforming Rehabilitation" scheme was certain to fail from when it was announced in 2012/13.

      But the real far bigger issue is that no longer does parliament engage with the detail and listen to those who do understand - elsewhere I had a similar interaction with a retired school teacher today - education changes since the 1980s - also ignored "what works" and what does not work, leaving those mired in the systems to muddle through as best as they can.

      I heard a very eloquent ex-offender on Sky News TV (just after 9.30 am Fri 29th sep 2023) explaining the reality of the "Imprisonment for Public Protection" system - the presenter should have reacted with shock and outrage - but just went on to the next subject - another area of failing from parliament - I am shocked that there is not more outrage and the objectors are so polite - I recall the poll tax protests and riots around 1990/1 - they bought that system down - too few care about criminal justice - I fear it maybe the death of Uk's limited democracy!

  9. So who thinks police are better paid than probation?

    "An opportunity has arisen to be an integral member of Cumbria Constabulary’s FMIT, supervising a team of investigators; investigating major and complex crime, serious and organised crime including complex non-recent abuse cases and cold cases of homicide and rape; under the direction of the Head of Crime, the FMIT Detective Inspector and/or a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO)... Lead Police Staff Investigator, full-time, SO1 grade £34-36k... "

    1. In response to Anon at 14.10 - when I began in napo about 1974/5 - the pay claims then were referencing that no longer were probation officers paid on a similar scale to Police Inspectors - which apparently was the position during the 1960s - when the great expansion of probation in england and wales with the introduction of parole and the mergining of the employees of the former discharged prisoners aid societies into employees of the then new Probation and after-care Committees of the various marigstrates Courts Committees of the many petty sessional divisions/areas took place - I was never paid at anythink like the level ofa police inspector and apart from the one "catch up" in 1980 after Napos big campaign - compararively probation pay levels generally declined as inflation really took hold in the 1970s

  10. This is a civilian job for someone who as a police pension …

  11. It is not better to complete the survey and score low. The survey itself is the biggest metric of engagement. They look at the number of replies more than anything else.

    1. Bummer. I’ve completed it already!

  12. I have completed the survey and for first time been brutally honest. Previously I tried to con myself in believing I felt attached to the service, believed in what we do. Now I'm just honest, I still believe in myself but not the service. I Don't recall anything about staff experience of PTSD. At some point the truth will come out. NAPO/ Probation Service should really conduct a comprehensive survey of PTSD within staff and preferably interview staff who have experienced this. It's disgraceful that the service doesn't acknowledge this, provide information about PTSD to staff and how to recognise symptoms. It doesn't take an expert psychologist to realise that working with such complex issues, trauma, PD, sexual and violent offences, challenging group, threats to staff, SFO's, out of control case loads, graphic CPS, domestic and sexual violence etc on daily basis, one service user after another during the day and no time to process, deaths of service users etc etc, this is a recipe for PTSD yet its ignored by the service, always has been and we are treated like machines. If you have experienced symptoms such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, graphic nightmares or night terrors, sudden anger, anxiety, hypervigilance, feeling isolated from family or your emotions, sexual dysfunction, suicidal thoughts, increased reliance on drugs or alcohol, feeling hopeless etc you are likely to have PTSD. Don't wait for the service to assist but seek support from your GP or ask to speak to occupational health. Don't trust the service to support you, sorry but it won't because it feels no responsibility towards staff and doesn't openly acknowledge this. Maybe post here so we can get some idea of the scale of the problem. Also PQUIPS are not informed about the risks when agreeing to sign up to training, this is a gross breach of duty of care as many of them will go on to suffer from PTSD which can blight your life and relationships and take many years to recover from.

    1. Who would disagree with the concerns of @12:16 above?

      Here are some links. I very much doubt that in the current climate anyone is able to deliver "A trauma-informed approach... which seeks not to re-traumatise with blame and sanction..." when the hmpps norm is recall, recall, recall :

      "four in 10 were returned within 28 days of being released and in some probation regions almost half were recalled to custody, according to a report by the HM Inspectorate of Probation."

      "Context - Trauma-informed practice (TIP) originated in healthcare organisations but is now increasingly being adopted by a range of frontline services, including in the criminal justice system. Generally, trauma-informed services do not offer treatment for trauma but provide services that recognise people are likely to have experienced trauma and adversity. Principles of TIP were developed to improve staff knowledge about the impact of trauma, how it manifests in behaviour, and to develop organisational culture and practices that ensures a person’s trauma does not impede their access to services. This bulletin explores the experiences of staff working with trauma in adult probation."

      "A trauma-informed approach is promoted which seeks not to re-traumatise with blame and sanction, but to recognise individual strengths and skills, build confidence and re-educate. It is a person first, service user centred approach that is rooted in desistance and strengths-based models, recognising that the causes and impact of trauma are individualised."

      See also: