Saturday 28 October 2023

This Has Got to Stop

A contribution from yesterday:-

I was one if the 90% of staff put on work improvement by the PDU Head of South and Central Birmingham. I went off sick for 4 months with stress and when I returned to work I had Stress Assessment meetings - lip service to tick a box exercise to show management ‘care’ about their staff. However the cases kept coming, the AQA assessments of Oasys kept filling my inbox with reams of amendments to complete, meetings were being called on an almost daily basis to inform us which stick they would be beating us with on that particular day and the cherry on the cake, you’re on work improvement as an incentive to carry on working 50+ hours a week just to keep up with paperwork. 

I was berated for seeing service users face to face and told a phone call was sufficient and it was these appointments were what were eating into my time and my ability to complete the mountains of paperwork. Thankfully I’ve left the service after 15 years and, for my mental health, it has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Hearing that the same PDU head has said that the reason for those leaving the service was due to them being ‘professionally immature’ has only reinforced that I have made the right decision.


Friday 27 October 2023

Traumatised Supervise the Traumatised

It's been quite a week for some really shocking testimony to emerge as to what a horrid and toxic environment has developed within the probation workplace under HMPPS. This pretty much sums things up I think:- 
"HMPPS strategy is to double down on staff and say nothing. No words of support or encouragement to staff. No public statements in support of frontline staff. No sense that they even give lip service to any care and protection. It's putting the public and the staff at increasing risk. The traumatised being supervised by the traumatised. In their own frightened way, they probably think this is working: the coverage is fleeting and probation frontline are too knackered to raise their eyes from the performance keyboard and too frightened to say anything out loud. They have seen the news coverage (that's the only place I have seen any discussion, nothing in the canteen, nothing from managers) they just can't deal with it. It's all flight, freeze and fawn. Not sure there's much fight in anyone."

Meanwhile this Guardian article serves as a powerful reminder of the risks involved and how dysfunctional HMPPS has become:-  

Probation officers fear repeat of failings in murder case as pressures mount

Moves to free up prison places in England and Wales have prompted panic in already overstretched probation service

Giving evidence at an inquest last week, England’s most senior probation officer admitted that inexperienced and unqualified staff had made a “fundamental error” by classing Damien Bendall as posing a “low risk of harm to partners and to children”.

When Bendall, who had a history of domestic violence, murdered his pregnant girlfriend and three children in September 2021, he was on probation after receiving a 24-month suspended sentence for arson. He is now serving a whole-life sentence for the murders.

Every probation officer worries that among their towering caseload will be the next Bendall, said Tania Bassett, a national official for Napo, the trade union for probation workers.

“We have to do our best to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. But in the current climate, I can’t see that it won’t,” she said. “When you put anybody under that level of continual stress and strain and pressure, mistakes will happen.”

The pressures on probation are only going to mount after a twin set of announcements made by the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, on Monday last week.

First, he announced immediate emergency measures to release some prisoners up to 18 days early. About 100 have been released under that mechanism since, the Guardian understands.

More radically, Chalk said the government would “legislate for a presumption that custodial sentences of less than 12 months in prison will be suspended”. Instead of being sent to jail, most low-level offenders “will be punished in the community instead, repaying their debt within communities, cleaning up our neighbourhoods and scrubbing graffiti off walls,” he said.

Chalk said 55% of those given such short sentences reoffended within a year of release, so prison clearly wasn’t working.

It was a big departure for a government that likes to appear tough on crime. In August it was reported that ministers planned to introduce mandatory jail sentences for repeat shoplifters. In May, new sentencing guidelines raised the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. Since 2015, any adult caught twice with a knife must receive at least six months in jail.

Harsher sentences have been a hallmark of successive Conservative governments over the past 13 years, with the inevitable result that between 2012 and 2021 the average jail term increased from 17 to 24.9 months. Meanwhile, the number of community sentences has dropped by nearly two-thirds, from 189,333 in 2010 to 68,994 in 2022.

This month the prison population reached an all-time high of 88,225, with two-thirds of jails in England and Wales officially overcrowded. At least 15,000 prisoners are on remand, awaiting trial, owing to court backlogs caused by the Covid pandemic plus the fact that the Tories have closed half of all magistrates courts since 2010.

Chalk’s announcements prompted panic in the already overstretched probation service, which last year was managing 240,431 cases in prison and in the community.

Last month the departing chief inspector of probation, Justin Russell, reported “chronic staffing shortages at every grade which have led to what staff perceive to be unmanageable workloads” and said he was particularly worried about “consistently weak” public protection.

At the inquest for Bendall’s victims, the chief probation officer, Kim Thornden-Edwards, said the probation service had invested significantly in staff since the murders. Chalk told MPs that the government was already injecting £155m a year to recruit probation staff to bring down caseloads and deliver better supervision of offenders in the community. But in March this year there were actually 76 fewer probation officers than a year previously (4,413, compared with 4,489), though there were 846 more lower-qualified probation service officers, nearly 200 more senior probation officers and almost 500 more trainees.

There are particular shortages in London and the south, where housing costs are greatest. In Dorset, half of all qualified probation posts were unfilled this summer, resulting in difficulties in delivering unpaid work.

“People are being promoted to a senior probation officer six to nine months after they qualify,” Bassett said. “They are delivering training on things like parole, having never written a parole report in their life.”

Inside many prisons there are not enough probation staff working in offender management units (OMUs), which are supposed to prepare prisoners for release. At HMP Lowdham Grange in Nottinghamshire, probation officers manage 100 prisoners each, a recent inspection found, and prisoners were frustrated that “they were not receiving the help they needed to achieve their sentence plan targets”.

When inspectors put Woodhill high-security prison in Milton Keynes into special measures in September, the OMU had only half of the probation-trained managers it needed.

Sickness levels are high because of stress, said Bassett. “We had a workload meeting with members a few weeks ago and there was a member there who went off sick when her work dropped to 200%, down from 320%. She finally said: ‘I can’t do this any more,’” she said.

Chalk’s reforms will also affect the judiciary, particularly magistrates, who impose more short sentences than crown court judges. The principle is good, said Mark Beattie, the chair of the Magistrates Association. “Magistrates don’t take any pleasure in sending people to custody,” he said. But he queried what the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was doing to increase unpaid work placements and other programmes to tackle problems such as drug and alcohol abuse imposed as part of community sentences.

“What frustrates us probably most is: it takes a long time for people to get on to that unpaid work pattern,” said Beattie, a magistrate in London. “We know it’s a challenge for probation to find enough projects. Unpaid work has to be done [for] 12 months and we see probation coming back to court and asking us to extend community orders.”

Less than half of all unpaid work orders are completed within 12 months in most regions of England, according to MoJ figures, with timely completions at under 40% in Greater Manchester and Yorkshire.

The availability and quality of treatment programmes imposed as part of many community sentences is also patchy, said Beattie, with a “postcode lottery” of which schemes are available in each area. For example, men convicted of domestic violence offences are often ordered to complete a course called Building Better Relationships, which has long waiting lists – 29% start the course more than six months after their referral date.

Though Napo has advocated for years for an end to short sentences for non-public order offences, Bassett does not believe Chalk’s announcement was rooted in ideology.

“I think they’ve just got to the point where they’ve got to be seen to do something because otherwise judges can’t sentence people,” she said. “I genuinely don’t think there’s a belief behind it, it’s not them thinking ‘we need to do some reform’. It’s their hand is being forced, it’s a sticking plaster over this gaping wound.”

Wednesday 25 October 2023

A Mutiny?

I've been out all day, so most of the following contributions have only just been published and I'll let them speak for themselves:-

I simply do not understand how an SPO is justified in allocating work to staff (interesting distinctions made between managers and “my team” ie the staff, that seems to me to say so much more than a simple pay grade above a PO), knowing that those staff are already holding a full case load and therefore have NO CAPACITY for allocation of additional work. That in itself is an admission of inflicting harm on those very staff if you know people in ‘your team’ are at that point not coping and are stressed. Surely that is a line of accountability here that leads directly to ALL in the management structure?

Wringing of hands does not remove or negate this accountability. Saying we know this is wrong but have no choice but to continue harming staff is what seems to be some sort of admission here and for which there can be no absolution because it causes you worry but yet you keep repeating the behaviour. That said, what about those we are allocated, where is the procedural justice, care and support for them? Knowing this is wrong but ‘having’ to keep doing it, is no justification. If you keep shovelling shit down it eventually lands on the most vulnerable and there should be no doubt that this is precisely what is openly being done. So victims, offenders and justice is being systemically failed. PO

Toxic management meetings combining handwringing about staff struggling and leaving, then in come the performance figures and get your team to do this. I've heard PDU heads wring their hands about workloads and the consequences of them and then bow down to head of ops who simply doesn't give a hoot. The RPD comes in with fluff about proper probation practice but gaslights people about workloads and fails to take any responsibility by being will ignorant of what's going on, meaning all the pressure falls once again to PO/PSO and SPOs, when it should be going up.

I’ve never spoken to a single PO / PSO that felt their PDU heads were fit for purpose. The reality is they aren’t. They have the power to do something about this mess but they don’t. They ‘wring their hands’ and ‘bow their heads’ and knowingly allow the harm to staff to continue. They have far more power than SPOs but they just toddle along like things will magically rectify themselves, without them actually doing anything to make that happen. Then they wonder why they have a mutiny on their hands, where staff have had enough and are saying no. I have no sympathy for them. They contribute to the daily nightmare that never ends. 

There will be many more catastrophic SFOs and practitioners AND SPOs will take the fall for them every single time. Careers and reputations destroyed, emotional and mental health in shreds, and the PDU heads and RPDs will go unscathed every single time. Cases are people but so are staff and the Service is nothing without its practitioners. Something the higher-ups seem to have completely forgotten. They will remember fast enough when they suddenly have hundreds of cases to reallocate and literally nobody to give them to, because most of their staff are off sick, overwhelmed and unable to function anymore because of the stress they have wilfully dumped at our doors with no thought for our well-being. 

Duty of care starts at the top. Practice is broken because staff are broken. Hire more agency staff. LISTEN TO STAFF. Understand we are only human and we AREN’T expendable unless they want a Service consisting of trainees and newly qualified officers because experienced staff have either left or are too unwell to work. Stop breaking staff. There are no excuses, justifications or reasons to do this to staff. There will be no staff retention unless they STOP BREAKING US.

Other services are protecting their work force better than Probation. Some police areas have stopped taking IOM referrals due to lack of capacity. Many children's services have protected caseloads. They know that if they don't protect staff they lose them. So why do we have no control and why are managers not doing more to reduce our caseloads and have a genuine safe working measurement? PSS should go for starters and we should not have to deal with the shambles of accommodation. The task should go to another specialist service. It taking up too much valuable time and contributing to burn out. 

We need more Probation officers, ones with experience so why are PO's being shifted over to work on quality control? It ridiculous and these jobs need to go, get the PO's back doing offender manage. I read the article from the PO and it's spot on. Sounds like someone has taken my brain contents and splattered it over the blog. It's nice to know I'm not alone but all the more shocking to know how many of us are genuinely suffering and being abused so badly at work.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Being a Senior Probation Officer

Thanks go to the reader for sending this in:-

Thank you to the writer of this, it sums up how most of us feel. I want to add the voice of an SPO to this. We come in for a lot of criticism from colleagues, but also get a lot of support and empathy. Currently I line manage over 15 staff, as everywhere my team are over worked, under resourced and stressed. But they are amazing people doing some amazing work in impossible circumstances. 

The concerns I have for the well-being of my team keep me awake, I am constantly having to juggle balls and spin plates in the small hope it alleviates some pressure for them. I know that it doesn’t- it adds heat to a boiling pot. Staff are burnt out. They go home feeling guilty, tired, and overwhelmed. Not only are they trying to manage high caseloads with high need, they are trying to help their colleagues and welcome a constant turn over of new staff in the hope that they stay. New staff are given a bloody awful hand, they are being under trained and hammered with huge caseloads, despite my best efforts I am sure that there are cases they shouldn’t have.

We work in silos- gone are the days when you started to get to know your case pre sentence, and worked with them until the end whatever that sentence was. Courts are understaffed, the initial assessment process is consistently flawed. If they think the Bendall catastrophe has resolved this it hasn’t. Police checks are taking weeks- the focus isn’t on analysing offending or behaviour, we are in a copy / paste culture of OASys and quality assurance!

22 years in probation- 17 as a PO- my highest caseload was 110 cases in the CRC. Caseload numbers are not that stupid anymore but I have POs on 40 cases, PSO’s on 50+- all are complex, high need. How on earth are staff expected to be effective? First thing that is dropped when workloads are high is the 1-1 rehabilitation, group work is touted as the answer.

Barriers to engagement- breach- enforcement takes months, we don’t look at how we can effectively engage people anymore, deal with resistance and denial and sequence interventions. Targets, targets, targets. No doubt we need performance measures but they don’t mirror what we need to achieve . And then HMIP issue reports stating we have great leadership and research indicating that community disposals work with good 1-1 relationships in probation- ironic, frustrating and why we have an issue in probation, but certainly the latter is not news.

My teams caseload is over 600 cases, am I confident that all bases are covered, that I know all of the really risky cases? no. But I am confident that, despite the tensions, my colleagues are bloody working hard and trying their best. Touch points model on 600+ cases- laughable and impossible, but also meaningless. Managers meetings are a constant discussion on how do we support staff, we don’t hold the keys to the solutions locally and nationally they are not interested. Staff retention is that key- but to achieve this we need to go back to the drawing board and look at the whole structure of probation and it’s value base. 

We have become solely a public protection agency, ineffective at public protection as we no longer assess effectively or rehabilitate. Yes better pay would have an impact but I think we all want the ability to be effective in building those working relationships with our people and do the rehabilitative work, not be chained to a laptop ticking a box or filling in a tool which tells us what we already know (for those of us fortunate enough to have had some decent training).

Sentencing- let’s not go there- PSS- principle of rehabilitation- is an utter shambles.
I stay in the service because I care- care for my colleagues, care for the people coming through the door, partners and public. That's no longer seen as a positive by senior leaders / HMPPS. Will I stay until the end of my career, probably not but I will do what I can to look after my team while I am able to.


Being a Probation Officer

This is not the blog post I was going to publish today when I went to bed early last night. I went early because I knew there will be many reading the blog through the night, worrying, disturbed and concerned about what has become public knowledge from the Inquest into the murder of Terri Harris and her three children. And I was right, the following was written at 02:08 this morning and it will be so representative of the feelings shared by many staff across the Service.

The time has come for others to speak up, if they feel able, either anonymously here, or by making contact confidentially. Something has to change and pressure must be exerted upon our political leaders to get a grip, acknowledge the utter and calamitous failure of Probation being subsumed within HMPPS and the inexorable march of uncaring and incompetent civil service command and control freaks. This cannot and must not go on.

Once again I have been approached by serious mainstream media for background to the sorry state of affairs. Yes, we all know staff must not talk to the media and especially to this blog, but since when did responsible Probation Officers simply follow orders without reference either to their moral compass, professional judgement or simply sense of what's right? But please be careful and take care not to reveal anything that might identify you if posted directly on here. Please look for support amongst your colleagues, you are not alone and above all take care and look after each other. 


This is why so many are sick to the stomach at the thought of going to work every day. Years in the probation service, years of experience, and we all sit there wondering when one of our cases will go so horribly wrong. When will we have to defend our lack of time to complete everything expected of us? When will we have to defend ourselves in court? When will we have to live with knowing one of ours went out and committed something so terrible that we will never sleep well again? Something so appalling that we will blame ourselves for the rest of our lives, even when it’s clear we are as let down by the service that is supposed to protect people as the public is? When not if. When. We all wonder when. 

How many of us have stopped watching the news when we’re on leave out of fear we may see one of ours on it? How many of us really leave our cases in the office? We don’t. We take them home with us in our heads. There’s never a break from it. How many of us end up waking up and writing a list in the early hours of the morning so we don’t forget to do things when we get to work? How is anyone supposed to manage that level of debilitating stress?

How many times have we sat at our desks with our heads in our hands and not known where to start because every case is on fire that day, and we don’t know how to put them out? But are afraid to take it to managers because they will write us up as having capability issues? How are staff being put on these punitive processes for being human? How then can anything be fixed when we cannot trust the people above us not to hang us out to dry if things go wrong? Where is the support? Where is the monthly clinical supervision? Why aren’t we having that? Why are staff being given warning letters for being off sick because of management? How are we supposed to be a part of our own families when we have all of this going on in our heads all of the time? 

Being a probation officer is supposed to be about rehabilitation and helping to make positive change. Instead staff end up in therapy, on medication, off sick, having a break down, feeling unsafe in work, out of work, and knowing nothing will get better. It will only get worse. It’s not a life. There’s no job satisfaction. Our trust in others is severely damaged. And we are all just waiting for WHEN one of ours does something terrible. 

Being a probation officer is to live in daily fear of something going terribly wrong because we are stretched so thin, and have cases flying at us from every direction, that half the time we don’t even remember our cases. They all merge into one giant offender. We get to spend 15 minutes with them once a week and basically just monitor them. There’s no time to do toolkit worksheets. We are swamped with emails, referrals and telephone calls from one service to another because all services are at breaking point. 

Don’t even get me started on trying to find housing for cases. Cases that have severe mental health issues, are suicidal, are high risk, are dangerous. There’s barely enough time to write up sessions, and lunch breaks are a thing of the past. Probation is burning down around our ears, and we are expected to continue like nothing is happening. ‘Business as usual.’


Sunday 22 October 2023

Probation Officers Speak Out

Lets keep the pressure up on the MoJ and HMPPS. Mainstream media might have lost interest but here we have an excellent piece of work from Byline Times:-

Probation Officers Speak Out About the Crisis in Managing Offenders

The Probation Service, still reeling from Chris Graylings catastrophic reforms, is another crumbling pillar of the criminal justice system

The first thing people need to appreciate is that it’s not just when you’re going into work. It’s all the time.” Dave (not his real name) is a serving probation officer with over 20 years of frontline experience dealing with some of the most dangerous and violent criminals in the country. He’s describing the constant and unyielding pressure of his work in a vital service at the heart of the criminal justice system. As a civil servant, he’s not supposed to speak out publicly, so he will only talk on condition of anonymity. But he wants the world to understand the level of stress and responsibility that he and his colleagues live with every day.

“It’s at night-time if you hear the police helicopter above you, you think: ‘I hope that’s not to do with my client who didn’t come in today, or my client who was making threats against somebody.’ It’s if you’re off on leave and you see something on the news and you think ‘is that to do with such-and-such a client?’ It’s waking up in the middle of the night thinking ‘I haven’t done this. I need to do that. I haven’t done the other.’I’m fairly sure 90-odd per cent of probation staff think that way.”

Dave is not the only disillusioned voice from the coal face. Claire (not her real name), quit her job as a probation officer six months ago, and is clear about the biggest problem she faced: “It’s the huge workload… You simply can’t be the safe practitioner that you want to be – or should be.”

The Probation Service is supposed to help rehabilitate offenders, reduce crime, and keep the public safe. But it’s not just the workers on the frontline who recognise that things appear to be close to breaking point. In September, the Inspectorate of Probation published its latest annual report on the service. It makes for very difficult reading and confirms the depressing picture of chaos, understaffing and poor performance.

The Grayling Effect

Over the last two years, the inspectors rated 31 local Probation Delivery Units (PDUs) in England and Wales, around a third of the total. None achieved the highest rating of “Outstanding”, only one was rated “Good”, with 15 PDUs rated “Requires Improvement” and the remaining 15 “Inadequate”. With remarkable understatement, the Inspectorate describes these findings as “disappointing”.

The service is still recovering from former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s attempt at part-privatisation in 2014. His big idea was to get rid of the 35 Probation Trusts in England and Wales which previously ran the service. In their place, he created 21 privately-operated Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), whose role was to supervise the 200,000 low- and medium-risk offenders. That left the 31,000 high-risk offenders under the care of a newly created public sector organisation known as the National Probation Service (NPS),

Those reforms didn’t quite work out as planned, to put it mildly. A study in 2019 by Professor Gill Kirton, of Queen Mary University of London, and Dr Cécile Guillaume, of Roehampton University suggested that, far from improving efficiency, the changes simply created unrealistic expectations. They also led to bigger caseloads for the officers who remained in the public sector looking after the more dangerous offenders, leaving the public at greater risk. In short, the two academics concluded that the Grayling reforms had been “an unmitigated disaster”.

Those reforms were finally abandoned two years ago, which means that, as the Probation Service is re-integrated and becomes fully state-run again, it is now undergoing its fourth reorganisation in the last 20 years. The Inspectorate of Probation concludes that dealing with the inherited problems of privatisation and the turmoil of yet more change means “the service has if anything got worse, not better”.

One of the biggest problems is staffing. In the Grayling years, the privately-run parts of the service didn’t release staff numbers, so the true scale of the cuts that were made by the CRCs is only becoming clear now that the service has been taken fully back into public ownership.

Some regions are now suffering particularly acute staff shortages. The inspectors found that Yorkshire and Humber, for example, has a vacancy rate of almost 32%, and in London it’s almost 35%. Those shortages often mean that there’s no continuity of supervision for the most serious offenders.

As Probation Officer Dave told Byline Times:
“It’s not uncommon that a high-risk offender could have 7 or 8 Offender Managers in the space of one year… I heard of one case where a man who was released on an 18-month licence had 11 managers. If you’re a serious offender, why are you going to keep opening up to a new manager time after time?

“It takes a lot to be frank with a stranger about difficult things. For example, if you’re a sex offender, you’re talking about issues like sexual stimulation, masturbation, fantasies. Why would you want to go through all that time after time with a new Offender Manager?”
The Government is trying to address the staffing issue with its first-ever recruitment campaign on national TV, radio and social media, which was launched a few weeks ago. One of the ads shows a tattooed ex-offender “Paul” being interviewed by two friendly, but earnest-looking probation officers who are assessing what level of risk he represents to the public. It closes with the tagline “An extraordinary job. Done by someone like you.”

Ex-Probation Officer Claire takes a dim view of the advert. “The idea that there would ever be enough staff for two officers to interview someone is ridiculous… And that slogan at the end? It just rings hollow. They certainly don’t treat you as extraordinary when you’re actually doing the job.” Serving Officer Dave has a rather more pithy verdict: “It’s absolute shite.”

It will be some time before we know whether the campaign is having any discernible effect on recruitment. What is clear right now is that the officers who remain in the service are often exhausted and demoralised, with many suffering acute stress that frequently leads to their taking sick leave. Inevitably, that has an impact on the quality of service they can offer. Probation Officer Dave told Byline Times an alarming story about the effect that had on one particular offender.

“I know of one officer who had been interviewing an offender, and she’d agreed to relax the terms of his curfew so that it began at 11 pm rather than 7 pm, as it was previously. But before she had the chance to update the notes on his file, her manager suddenly marched into the office and told her that she had 6 new cases added to her workload.

“She was so stressed and upset that she had to go home sick. So when the offender she’d been interviewing arrived home that night in time for what he thought was the new agreed 11.00 curfew he was arrested, because unknown to him, the notes still said he should have been home by 7 pm. And that offender was sent back to prison.”

Failed Cases

One of the key areas of concern in the Inspectorate of Probation report is the supervision of offenders after release from prison or sentencing in court. In over 62% of the 1,509 cases they reviewed, none of the six key elements of the required supervision programme was delivered satisfactorily.

That finding indicates some of the most troubling questions for the Probation Service: Is it still up to the job of keeping the public safe? Is it able to provide accurate assessment and management of potential risks? Worryingly, the inspectors found that, in over two-thirds (67%) of cases, provision was “insufficient”.

They also found other serious failings: In cases where inspectors judged that child safeguarding enquiries were required, they were only carried out just over half (55%) of the time. Where domestic abuse inquiries were deemed necessary, they were done less than half (49%) of the time.

Anyone familiar with the cases of Jordan McSweeney or Damien Bendall will know how serious such failings can be. McSweeney was under probation supervision nine days after his release from prison in June 2022, when he sexually assaulted and murdered Zara Aleena as she walked home in Ilford, East London.

In 2021 Bendall committed four murders in Killamarsh, Derbyshire while still being supervised by probation. He murdered his partner Terri Harris, her two children John Paul and Lacey Bennett, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent. He also raped 11-year-old Lacey. The inquest into those murders finally opened last week and is expected to conclude by the end of October.

Former Probation Officer Claire remembers those cases with a shudder. “They were utterly horrific for the families involved… But there’s also the feeling of: Could that officer who supervised those offenders have been me? … And what makes that feeling worse is that you don’t feel safe as a probation officer having a conversation with managers in which you’re vulnerable, a conversation about the fear of making mistakes, even when you haven’t made one.”

The testimony of Claire and Dave paints a picture of officers under extreme pressure on the frontline of a service close to breaking point. The probation inspectors’ report confirms the impression of organisational chaos and systemic failures. With this as the backdrop, it’s hard to believe that there won’t be more Jordan McSweeneys and Damien Bendalls to come.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Plea Falls On Deaf Ears

I found this Clinks response to the prison crisis announcement somewhat bemusing, most particularly this plea:-  
"We implore the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service to engage right across the voluntary sector, and Clinks is ready to help with this. There is experience, expertise, and innovation on offer from the sector, and it needs to be utilised if positive change is to be brought about."

Guys, if there's one thing HMPPS doesn't like it's 'experience, expertise, and innovation' because that's one thing probation had in spades before being forcibly taken over by HMPPS and they've been busily and ruthlessly extinguishing it ever since. Indeed it's work in progress with OneHMPPS. So Clinks, I'm afraid you're barking up the wrong tree with that one. 

Which brings me neatly to what's going on in Nottingham and the Napo conference. I've yet to get a transcript of the General Secretary's address, but it had better have been more barnstorming than usual and setting out the scene for a bloody big row with the MoJ, or the game's up and probation is finished. It's now or never because the only way the prison crisis can be sorted is with the active support and co-operation of the probation service workforce and they are mightily pissed off at the moment. So for goodness sake stand up, speak up and demand to be treated with respect and listened to and 'go public!' No more cosy chats down at Petty France eh? Kick arse.  

The government's plans to address the crisis in prison capacity - welcome first steps, but more to be done  

On the afternoon of 16 October 2023, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Alex Chalk KC MP, made a statement to the House of Commons announcing a range of measure to reduce the pressure on prison places.

The Lord Chancellor announced an interesting range of measures, and people in the voluntary sector will recognise some as things the sector has been recommending for years. This is especially the case for the intention to introduce a legislative presumption against custodial sentences of less than 12 months. Such a presumption has widespread support across our sector and has been called for by many voluntary sector-led campaigns.

This part of the announcement is very welcome. Clinks encourages the government to involve voluntary sector organisations, the people they support and those with lived expertise, in developing the specifics of the necessary legislation. There are still details to be worked out around the choice of suspended sentences as the preferred alternative to short custodial sentences, including considering whether this is too blanket an approach. When developing the plans, Clinks urges the government to consider all models for alternative sentences, alongside all relevant factors.

The Lord Chancellor made other positive announcements: exploring the possibility of widening the use of Home Detention Curfew (HDC), looking at the licence periods of people serving IPP sentences, along with the introduction of a temporary scheme to enable the earlier supervised release of certain people in prison 18 days ahead of their usual release date. Whilst this last measure was announced as a temporary step, Clinks would be supportive of this being a longer-term approach to support more effective resettlement and desistance.

We know many colleagues across the sector want even more to be done. Certainly, many in the sector would have also welcomed more radical steps, such as to significantly reduce women’s imprisonment, which may have also yielded more prison capacity where it is needed. Even more could have been explored around people in prison serving IPP sentences, and that it was not, seems a missed opportunity. It is also disappointing that, while the increased size of the remand population was recognised, little was said about the how the number of people currently on remand can be reduced.

No longer stuck in fifth gear

Many times, we have spoken about the need for the criminal justice system to be reformed to become less dependent on custody, and use more of the existing alternatives to prison, as well as introduce new ones. It is as if the system is being driven like a car stuck in the wrong gear for the conditions.

Prison is the fifth gear of our criminal justice system, and we should not see the use of custody at the level that we do. Instead, we need to see steps taken to not only address the immediate prison population crisis, but to allow the system to better utilise all of its gears. This means it would work in ways that better supports desistance, and for people to get the opportunities they need to transform their lives.

Barriers to success

While the announcements made this afternoon aim to relieve a capacity crisis, some of these changes will, with the right support and implementation, change the criminal justice system and how it works for people for the better. However, almost every one of the steps announced today relies on the support of the Probation Service. Despite this, there was no mention of changes to the service, systems, or ways of working. This seems remarkable given the staffing shortages in probation are well-documented. For the measures announced today to successfully enable people to stay out of prison and effectively move on with their lives, high quality probation services with sufficient capacity are vital.

Supporting probation

Here, there are a range of options. This includes both additional staffing but also ways to reduce pressure on existing staff. In the same way that prison capacity will be found through end of sentence supervised release, those nearing the end of their licence period should be supported and managed in ways which are more focussed on phasing out supervision, and enabling greater autonomy and self-regulation.

Probation supervision itself needs to be looked at to assess where it is helpful to rehabilitation and desistance. The blanket policy of supervision on release for everyone leaving prison has not been the success many had hoped. While that may be due to the lack of quality and sufficient staffing, it may also be that supervision is not what in itself creates the right environment for reducing reoffending.

Criteria for who is supervised, and how intensely, should be looked at again. This is not just because it currently creates real challenges in implementation. The newly proposed legislative presumption against short sentences also means that the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) model will need revisiting. This will be to ensure that sentencers can select the most effective supports and sanctions suited to the offence and the risk it poses, as well as an individual’s own needs and risk factors.

Investing in accommodation

To enable the measures which relieve prison capacity pressures through earlier release, we need more accommodation. Investment in accommodation for those leaving prison in recent times has been welcomed and is much needed. However, the current models will not have the capacity to meet the needs of a greater number of people, especially those who may need greater access to approved premises or housing with support and supervision built in.

The role of the voluntary sector

For both the issue of pressure on the Probation Service, and the issue of pressure on available accommodation in the community, more thought needs to be given to the role of the voluntary sector in supporting people affected by the new measures, as well as across community and resettlement services. Greater and more effective partnerships with voluntary organisations allows for potential to support the best outcomes. This will require doing things differently, like commissioning, contracting, getting services up and running, and vetting staff. But with the right involvement, and working in the spirit of collaboration and partnership, a lot could be achieved that would have a positive and lasting effect beyond this crisis.

We implore the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service to engage right across the voluntary sector, and Clinks is ready to help with this. There is experience, expertise, and innovation on offer from the sector, and it needs to be utilised if positive change is to be brought about.

These are welcome first steps. But more needs to, and can be done. There are already countless examples of voluntary organisations providing services that intervene before a custodial sentence even becomes an option. By diverting people away from the criminal justice system at the earliest possible opportunity, we can address many of the underlying issues that can lead people to having contact with the criminal justice system – including poverty and substance misuse – reducing future crimes. Such a focus on diversion and early intervention will not only help to address these underlying causes through service provision in the community, wherever possible, but also ensure that we never again face the predicament we currently find ourselves in. The voluntary sector stands ready to offer its expertise in plotting a path forward.

Anne Fox

Friday 20 October 2023

Napo 2023 Conference and AGM

Thanks go to the reader for supplying the following:- 

A few highlights from Napo Conference Day 1

This year Napo members converged upon the University of Nottingham for the 111th Annual General Meeting. With storm clouds gathering in the guise of storm Storm Babet – Nottingham is in the Amber Warning Zone - the mood amongst the assembled delegates was subdued. The usual wait for quoracy took 20mins possibly because the conference now relies upon online participants to login to an app. Many of course may have lost interest in waiting for 20 minutes (with work time pressures) but early joiners were unexpectedly able to listen in to a live audio feed from the top table that included some illuminating comments not intended for broadcast. oops.

With quoracy established and the mood already sombre General Secretary, Ian Lawrence took to the podium to deliver a diplomatically even-handed statement from the TUC regarding the Hamas–Israeli war. There was a condemnation of Hamas and the collective punishment of Palestinians. The TUC calls for an immediate ceasefire. Warning about the impending humanitarian disaster and a plea to open humanitarian corridors. Solidarity with all working people through the auspices of the ITUC. This was a timely reminder that Napo is part of a wider trade union network that connects working people throughout the world including in Gaza and Israel.

Next came Helen Banners address as current Chair of Napo. She spoke about the relentless mindless churn that probation has become. When will it stop? New faces come and go. Maintaining the toxic culture. Helen spoke about a client that had changed but that was some time ago when the probation landscape was a little more conducive to working with people meaningfully. Finally, Helen spoke about probation being embedded in and serving local communities which now sounds like a novel radical idea in contrast to the machinations of prison-controlled HMPPS with their dastardly One HMPPS plotting.

Next the incomparable Jeanne Peall. No Napo conference would be complete without the head of steering adding a bit of much-needed levity to proceedings. My personal favourite is the warning light and bell demonstration – superb comic timing. Fans will have observed that this year she was sporting some funky yellow-tinted glasses to cope with the glare of the lights – please turn the darn things down!! It is usually fun with microphones etc

Sonia Flynn was up next promoting the Probation Exhibition. I am not entirely sure about the timing of this exhibition as the MoJ seems intent on the Borg-like assimilation of the probation service into the prison service. Is this the end of probation exhibition? Anyway, thanks for doing this Sonia – very interesting.

Next up was supposed to be the present Chief Probation Officer, HMPPS, Kim Thornden-Edwards but she was unavoidably elsewhere at an enquiry.

Next up were speakers Liz Sackville-Roberts MP and Lord Fred Ponsonby who are the Co-Chairs of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group. Fred spoke about recognising the constant churn regarding the change in probation (churn was arguably the word of the day) He then spoke about his holiday in the US in Oregon where drug liberalisation has been a disaster. Not sure if there are many lessons to be learned from the US. Those working in probation might be thinking that more can perhaps be learned from our European neighbours who are closing prisons or hiring them out to less enlightened jurisdictions such as ours. Fred mentioned Labour has no plans to stop prison building reminding us that Labour need to adopt a bit more of an enlightened bucket of policies to improve upon Alex Chalk’s best efforts. 88,000 in prison and rising. Fred ended his contribution stating that there was an urgent need for a far-reaching approach to managing down numbers. Yep, no argument there but not of course without substantial investment in probation. Fred was polite. Some might wryly observe that with a General Election fast approaching Labour needs to grab the bull by the horns and learn from the success of jurisdictions that have ‘managed down the numbers’ without breaking the bank.

Liz Sackville-Roberts MP reminded us that interesting things have been going on in justice in Wales which is a prison disaster area with the highest imprisonment rate in Europe unfortunately demonstrating in microcosm Westminster policies applied in a microcosm. However, the devolved Welsh model, that the redoubtable Su McConnel has done so much to help develop, really does seem to be the way forward. You simply have to follow some of the savvy/smarter/ambitious people in HMPPS to know that Su et al are certainly on to something promising as there is some heavyweight jockeying for positions going on with rumours that justice devolution might be on the cards. Devolution plus an overhaul of probation – not too shabby compared to the government’s shambles. Liz broke conference protocol by endorsing the motion. ‘Out of Westminster, out of the civil service, separate from prisons: Probation in Wales can show a better way. Yes, yes, yes and yes. Thanks.

Motion highlights included a motion from Kent Surrey Sussex and London Branch ‘Failing to Support Neurodiverse Staff’ with moving speeches from Napo stalwart Richard Clark and others including a woman with personal experience of discrimination during training. These all highlighted severe difficulties that the probation service has in fulfilling its claims to be a disability-aware and equal opportunities employer – it is not a fit employer in this respect. Perhaps it will take some employment tribunals to prompt action to address this.

A motion by the London Branch concerning ‘Duty of Care’ suggested legal action in respect of the employer’s failings in its duty of care due to staff shortages. It was not the first or last time that the infamous Workload Management Tool was mentioned. ‘Dangerous workloads due to increasing workloads from Thames Valley Branch touched some raw nerves with some examples of staff being placed under intolerable pressure. ‘The Workload Management Tool’ (WMT) motion from The Mercia Branch called for the tool to be reviewed particularly its use in wider decision-making.


TUC General Council Statement on Gaza and Israel

The TUC is deeply concerned by the escalating violence and unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza and Israel. We support the UN call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Middle East and strongly urge the international community to make all efforts to ensure that international law is upheld and all civilians are protected.

The TUC has unequivocally condemned the brutal attacks and murder of Israeli civilians by Hamas. We call for the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages unharmed.

Neither the killing of Israeli civilians by Hamas nor the collective punishment of the people of Gaza by the Israeli government will do anything to end the occupation or bring about peace.

The TUC sends our solidarity to all Israelis and Palestinians who have been affected by this appalling violence and our condolences to those who have lost family and friends. We are alarmed by the escalation in antisemitism and anti-Muslim racism and oppose those who are using these events to stir up division in the UK. The TUC stands in solidarity with all working people, their friends, families and communities and opposes any attempt to divide us.

The current siege of Gaza, which comes on top of a 16-year air, sea and land blockade, has cut off food, water, electricity and fuel supplies. This is leading to a humanitarian disaster. The UN has stated that such measures amount to a form of collective punishment which is prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention. We call on the UK government and international community to support the opening of humanitarian corridors and to facilitate access to humanitarian aid and stand in solidarity with emergency and humanitarian workers.

The health system in Gaza has been described as at “breaking point” by the World Health Organisation. Hospitals are rationing electricity and there is an acute shortage of medical supplies. People across Gaza already have severely limited access to clean drinking water. Gazans who work in Israel have been prevented from returning home and some have been transferred to the West Bank, after being physically assaulted and their personal belongings confiscated.

The TUC is appalled by the destruction of Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, which killed hundreds of patients, healthcare workers and families that had been seeking refuge in and around the hospital.

We support a road to a just peace in Israel and Palestine. UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has acknowledged that, “This most recent violence does not come in a vacuum. The reality is that it grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year long occupation and no political end in sight.”

The TUC has long-standing democratically agreed policy in relation to Palestine and Israel. We have long called for an end to the military occupation of Palestinian territory and the blockade of Gaza, and respect for all Palestinian rights including the right to self-determination and the right to return.

The TUC urges the UK government and parliamentarians across the political spectrum and in all four nations to support genuine efforts towards a just, comprehensive and lasting peace that is consistent with international law, including ending settlement expansion, and is based on a two-state solution, which promotes equality, democracy and respect for human and labour rights. And we will continue to work closely with, and through, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to support efforts to secure this lasting peace.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Trauma In Probation

Particularly over recent months, I've become increasingly aware of both a toxic cultural environment becoming prevalent within the probation service, together with evidence of staff suffering from workplace-induced trauma. Of course this has been powerfully evidenced most recently by personal testimonies, but I've long been made aware of the situation through other private communications going back several years. The situation has massively worsened since the enforced takeover by HM Prison Service and will not improve as their grip on the service tightens and the dead hand of the civil service continues to erase the distinctive probation ethos. 

So, as this extremely depressing scenario continues to play out, I must express thanks to the reader for pointing me in the direction of the following paper designed to support Practice Supervisors and although mainly intended for the children's social care sector, I'm pretty sure the introduction and Section one will resonate with many probation staff:-        

PSDP–Resources for Managers of Practice Supervisors: A spotlight on organisational trauma: the system as the ‘client’


Although relatively new in this country, thinking of organisations as being able to hold trauma is an increasingly influential school of thought which informs our understanding of workplace culture. 

This tool was written by Dr Karen Treisman, a clinical psychologist, trainer, organisational consultant and author who specialises in trauma. Its content was drawn from her direct practice, and from a 2019 Winston Churchill Fellowship trip during which she met with over 100 people from 14 cities across the USA. 

The focus of this research was to learn from best and innovative practice around organisational and system change to become more informed about / responsive to trauma, adversity and workplace culture. You can read more about Dr Triesman’s findings in her latest book, ‘A Treasure Box for Creating Trauma-Informed Organizations: A Ready-to-Use Resource for Trauma, Adversity, and Culturally Informed, Infused and Responsive Systems’.

This tool is an extracted and adapted contribution from that book. It has been developed for middle leaders in children’s social care who have a strategic focus within the organisation, and for practice supervisors with line management responsibilities.

Sections one and two of the tool provide information about different aspects of organisational trauma, followed by reflective questions. In section three, you have the opportunity to review the history and journey of your organisation’s relationship with trauma, and to reflect on what actions or conversations you might want to initiate as a result. Please note, this tool is an important but small piece of the overall organisational trauma picture. It is intended to act as a spotlight and a way of beginning to think about this area of work, other aspects of which include:

> cultural humility 
> organisational triggers 
> organisational adverse experiences.

To develop a more comprehensive understanding of the full impact of organisational trauma, you will need to do further reading and gather more information.

Section one: what do we mean when we talk about organisational trauma?

Just like people, organisations are alive. They’re always developing and adapting, and can be equally vulnerable to stress. Loss, dissociation and toxic stress can spread like contagion throughout an organisation. When this happens, it can become traumatised, unhealthy and distressed, which can result in practices that induce (rather than reduce) trauma, resulting in a trauma-driven culture. In order to protect themselves from painful feelings, organisations often respond to trauma in the same way as people, i.e. by operating in survival mode. When this happens, all that unacknowledged pain, stress, anxiety and dissociation get passed down and pushed deeper into the fabric of their workings. In such cases, you may find that people, teams, or the culture of the organisation itself, can become:
  • reactive or crisis-driven 
  • avoidant, numb, detached or dissociated (either emotionally or from the organisational mission, or both) 
  • polarised in its thinking e.g. them vs us / good vs bad etc. (this includes ‘othering’ and splitting processes) 
  • unreflective or lacking in trust 
  • too busy to think or feel 
  • defensive 
  • on edge and hyper-vigilant 
  • physically and emotionally unwell confused, lost, alone and disoriented 
  • dysregulated 
  • chaotic 
  • frozen and frustrated 
  • rigid and inflexible (which includes striving for perfectionism) 
  • mournful and grief-stricken 
  • helpless and depressed 
  • disconnected, disintegrated, incoherent and fragmented.
On top of organisational trauma, many practitioners carry their own adversity and stress, which can compound existing factors, as exemplified by this classic quotation from Remen (1994, p. 96): 
‘The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it, is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water and expecting not to get wet.’
That’s why we need to name, acknowledge and explore the impact of phenomena like secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout, as well as being curious about wider team and organisational dynamics. This is fundamental to our own and to other people’s wellbeing. 

Wellbeing is not only essential for the work itself, but has a ripple effect on decision-making, relationship-based practice, staff satisfaction, sickness, and so on.

The information you have read in Section 1 is adapted from Dr Treisman’s Winston Churchill Fellowship report on adversity, culturally and trauma informed, infused and responsive organisations. If you are citing any of this content please be sure to reference this report. So, thinking more about the notion that an organisation can operate in survival mode and be impacted by trauma, this also means that an organisation, like a person, can become consumed, flooded and overwhelmed by trauma, adversity and stress. For example, the organisation itself, or a team within it, can become ‘trauma-organised’ and ‘trauma-soaked’, meaning it can be dominated by survival needs and the forces of organisational culture.

Dr Sandy Bloom, a trailblazer and leader in this field, defines the term trauma-organised in her Sanctuary book series: ‘When an individual, family, organisation, system, or culture becomes fundamentally and unconsciously organized around the impact of chronic and toxic stress, even when this undermines its adaptive ability’ (2013). What we might see and feel when this is the case is that trauma, loss, dissociation, dysregulation and toxic stress can spread like a contagion or a wildfire throughout an organisation. It can interrupt the organisation’s flow, the ripple effects can be felt throughout the system’s multiple layers and if it isn’t attended to it can continue to spread and intensify.

The word trauma comes from the Greek traumata, which means ‘to pierce’. This is entirely apt when thinking of trauma within organisations because it can wound, pierce and permeate individual, familial, organisational and societal layers. Erik de Soir (2015) talks about how the organisation’s protective emotional membrane can be pierced by trauma. Trauma can also be absorbed and taken in while at the same time leaking and spilling out. Shohet and Shohet (2019) describe how, without reflection, processing and so forth, trauma can be experienced by the organisation as badly ingested food, swallowed and then regurgitated later. 

Although these concepts can be applied to any organisation, they are especially important to acknowledge in places of work where practitioners have to deal with a lot of stress and trauma as a matter of course (e.g., children’s social care, residential homes for children in care, prisons, services for those in emotional distress, etc.).

Wednesday 18 October 2023

The Message Is Simple

It's the eve before the Napo conference and AGM in Nottingham and there's much to discuss because we all know the prison half of HMPPS is not the only bit in a state of crisis. But sadly I think we've all come to realise that one thing the civil service command and control modus operandi is really good at is sticking its fingers in the ears and closing its eyes to what is going on 'see nothing; hear nothing; say nothing'

There's mountains of evidence that the culture and probation workplace is becoming increasingly toxic and staff both new and experienced are leaving in droves. It's particularly noteworthy that there's even a growing refusal to partake of the annual charade of completing the Staff Survey, despite bullying to do so! In effect staff are saying that completion of the thing is taken as a high degree of satisfaction by management, despite whatever issues are raised within it.

The message is quite simple in my view. You cannot be an effective Probation Officer if you are a civil servant. Probation must break free of HMPPS and hopefully this view will be strongly endorsed at Nottingham this year. I'm not attending and this is a callout to any member who would like to submit their thoughts and reflections for publication and as the event progresses, anonymously and in order to stimulate discussion and edification of a wider audience. You can get in touch via

This person did and it adds to the growing testimony of traumatised staff:-

Dear Jim        

I saw your tweet about the bad relationship we are all in, and can’t leave. From my heart, in the deepest possible way, it resonates with everything I have felt and thought for years now. And it’s been decades of my life. It’s been like serving a life sentence. And I’m at that point where I’m walking away because it’s ruined my faith in people, in justice, in being a part of an institution, my health.

You know when you read something, and you’ve been trapped in despair, and you can’t escape, because you don’t know how to explain it to anyone else in a way that makes it make sense? Then you read something and suddenly you know how to explain it. That’s what reading that was for me.

I genuinely believe probation officers who stay for years, do the job, give so much more than they ever get back, are constantly criticised and never acknowledged, and are beaten back down with policies, targets, unrealistic expectations, and blame if they ever dare to speak up, have survivor trauma. There isn’t any other way I can think of to describe it. We survive the horror stories, the angry clients, the verbal abuse, the firefighting when things escalate with a case. But the real abuse is the thinly veiled threats from above, the devaluing, the gaslighting, the prejudice and the absolute degradation and discrediting of staff when they speak up and challenge anything.

By the time we do finally find the ability to leave, we are so burned out that it doesn’t even feel like a success to be free. It just feels like having to re-evaluate everything you ever believed in, and never seeing things in the same way ever again. It’s a battle, and the victory feels tainted, and drenched in exhaustion and broken trust, from having to fight so hard for so long, while being damaged repeatedly all the way along that rocky dirt path. It leaves us feeling bruised.

Survival trauma. We survive, but that survival comes at great personal cost.

Thank you for posting the tweet. You help to give us a voice and it’s comforting to know that somewhere out there is someone who thinks we’re worth fighting for. I think most officers who have been doing the job for years really struggle to both find reasons to stay, find a way to leave, and find a way to explain those feelings.


Tuesday 17 October 2023

How Not To Fix A Crisis

I've come at this a bit late in the day due to being engaged with a conference, but here's the widely trailed government statement on the prison crisis, together with some responses, starting with the Howard League:-

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to the government statement on prison overcrowding and sentencing reform, announced today (Monday 16 October).

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Two-thirds of prisons in England and Wales are overcrowded, so it makes sense to introduce targeted early release and limit the use of short sentences, particularly as the Ministry of Justice’s own research has proven they are ineffective.

“The government is right to prioritise using prison space for people who have committed serious and violent crimes, but the plan to keep those convicted of rape behind bars for their entire sentence raises concerns – especially if it means that they will be released without any form of probation supervision.

“We welcome any move to reduce the prison population and ensure that prisons can be safe and purposeful places where people get support to move away from crime. The Secretary of State’s announcement should signal a new approach to making sure imprisonment is used as effectively and humanely as possible.”


Rob Allen highlights several issues here:-

Prison Capacity: Two Oddities

Lots of historical precedents for Alex Chalk’s policy manoeuvrings today. William Whitelaw introducing short sharp shock detention centres to offset more generous parole arrangements came to my mind. And two oddities in Chalk's speech have stuck there.

First his totally false claim that the reason the prison population is nearly double the level it was three decades ago “is not principally because of the growth in the sentenced population”.

The Ministry of Justice wrote three years ago that “virtually all of the prison population increase since 1993 has been due to the increased number of prisoners sentenced to immediate custody.”

I’m genuinely puzzled why Chalk either doesn’t know this or if he does why he would wish to mislead Parliament about it. And why civil servants would allow him to say something which is factually untrue.

Second his wheeze on early release. He told MPs he’s decided to use the power in section 248 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to allow the Prison Service to move some less serious offenders out of prison on to licence up to 18 days before their automatic release date. This section allows the Secretary of State to release a fixed-term prisoner on licence if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify the prisoner’s release on compassionate grounds. Explanatory notes say that the kind of exceptional circumstances are where the prisoner is suffering from a terminal illness.

I wonder if it’s even lawful to use the power in the way he now wants to.


The Probation Institute speaks up:- 

Statement from the Probation Institute

The Criminal Justice System is in crisis and currently there are record numbers in prison with capacity about to be exceeded. We share the aspirations to reserve prison for the most serious offenders and to use community sentences wherever possible. However, the current proposals to release some prisoners early and to increase courts' use of community sentences, give us cause for concern. Temporarily solving one problem in the system (prison overcrowding), runs the risk of pushing the problem on to another under-resourced agency - the Probation Service - that is already struggling. Probation workloads are too high and HM Inspectorate of Probation reports have drawn attention to issues of inadequate staffing and poor levels of performance because of this, most notably in managing public protection. The evidence suggests that Probation supervision can be very effective when properly resourced.

We take the view that the problems of prison overcrowding will not be solved until a fundamental review takes place, examining the Criminal Justice System as a whole and the way different parts of the system interact. Fundamentally, there needs to be a rational debate about the place of prison and community sentences within our society, if not a Royal Commission.


Finally, this Editorial from the Guardian:-

The Guardian view on probation: the service has not recovered from a privatisation disaster

To ease the prisons crisis, improved management of offenders in the community is essential

The crisis in English and Welsh prisons is, reportedly, so acute that judges have been told to hold off jailing anyone else for the moment. The total number of prisoners last week reached an all-time high of 88,225, as reports on the malign effects of overcrowding, staff shortages, violence and self-harm continue to pile up. To relieve the pressure, the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, will allow more people to leave prison early and not send people to prison if their sentence is less than 12 months. Instead, Mr Chalk told MPs such “offenders will be punished in the community”. All this, however, seems to shift the problem from jails to the probation service, which is in an equally dire situation.

Probation was briefly a cause célèbre in 2021 when the partial privatisation overseen by Chris Grayling, in his disastrous tenure as justice secretary, was reversed. But while opponents of outsourcing were proved right when contractors failed to live up to expectations, the hoped-for improvement when the work was brought back in-house has not materialised. Last month’s annual report by the chief inspector, Justin Russell, was the last of his four-year term. In measured language, and while making an effort to highlight good practice, it delivered the grim message that the service has “if anything got worse”.

In the first three months of this year almost 7,000 people were recalled to prison, contributing significantly to overcrowding. The vast majority had not reoffended, but had broken one of their release conditions. These can include rules on drugs and alcohol, and keeping in touch with a supervisor. Inspection reports show that the proportion of probationers whose needs are met by the service has declined since 2021’s changes – making the recall figures unsurprising.

The lack of senior people, many of whom left when the service was privatised, is not helping. Currently the service is 1,700 officers short of its target of 6,160, with unmanageable caseloads contributing to high rates of sickness and poor staff retention. The return to challenging face-to-face work after the pandemic also caused difficulties. Like most public services, probation needs to be properly funded.

Mr Russell reserved his most serious criticism for grave failures in public protection. Last week saw the opening of the inquest into the deaths of Terri Harris and three children, who were murdered by Damien Bendall in 2022. He was on probation at the time and wrongly assessed as low/medium risk. The threat posed by Jordan McSweeney, who murdered Zara Aleena in east London last year, was similarly underestimated. Her family have been reported to be considering legal action.

But such catastrophic failures in individual cases point to deeper problems. The merging of probation with prisons looks like an error, with evidence that offender management works better when handled locally. This is how the system works in Scotland, and in English and Welsh youth justice teams – which achieve better outcomes. Devolving power would be a major U-turn: probation is now an entirely national service, having been once locally run and funded. Further integration with prisons is being planned. This should be paused, as unions are demanding. Mr Russell’s proposal for a review by someone outside the existing structure, and a reconsideration of whether the probation service would be better off if it had more independence, is a good one. The current situation is unsustainable, and fresh thinking is urgently required.

Sunday 15 October 2023

Guest Blog 94

A probation officer at heart and soul

I feel this person's pain and exhaustion at 19:36*. I really do. 
I have read your blog for years and found it a haven for like minded individuals such as myself where I can find solace and sense and confirmation that I am not the only one feeling frustrated and angry. I have contributed on a couple of occasions.

I sometimes mourn the standard of writing and not only on this blog. The standard of writing and grammar in PSR's is frankly lamentable and the lack of vocabulary shows that colleagues no longer read the written word via books but on phones from which they all seem to need surgical removal. I don't know what the judiciary think, but there is, in my view, nothing quite like a Judge's Judgement prose and nothing worse than a badly written parole report either. Everything now is so proscribed.

While you say that influential people read your blog and I don't doubt that they do, but why is nothing done? The gross mismanagement of the service is evident on all fronts based on the failures we hear about daily and inspectorate reports. As for the Head of the Service, I have never met a prison governor yet who actually understood what probation officers did and this one is no different to that and has an agenda of her own.

Staff morale is at an all time low and retention figures are poor no matter what they say overall. The majority of people in my office are actively job hunting and I have dabbled, I will admit.

Having joined the service over 20 years ago, I felt it was a vocation. I had the opportunity to experience a number of secondments now no longer available to staff but I feel all my experience is currently wasted on cases I was managing 20 years ago and with more resources.

We had a meeting recently and I voiced my concern at the hemorrhaging of experienced staff and overall poor training and why were part time or semi retired staff not permitted to mentor others and to teach specialist areas of interest instead of case working? Lip service agreement was paid which was insulting, but nothing is ever done because it does not fit the one size fits all model and I watch younger poorly trained - yes I said it - colleagues battling to understand the complexities of cases they have been given when the allocating SPO clearly has no clue either or it would never have been allocated to the colleague in the first place. All I ever want from a manager is that they know more than I do and have my back and I am whistling down the wind for that.

Why hasn't someone got rid of PSS? or would it not look good on the tory election agenda being harsh on crime and all that. I am sick of suggesting it to management and was told that it was a 'big ticket item' I was asking for so what is a PDU head for but to take those concerns further up the chain? God I give up.

Don't get me started on the egregious SFO process and the blame culture. I worked out that one particularly insidious SFO reviewer and 'Uriah Heap' type character who sat in front of me with steepled fingers, a body language signifier of control if ever I saw one, bailed out when TR hit, so has never actually case worked or managed a team in the current climate. I was told I had done a good job etc., etc., and then followed up with a nit picking 10 page report!!

I find myself taking new staff in hand and trying to do what I can to assist, but management want bums on seats and caseworkers so I am stuck using my part time to case manage cases for whom I am able to expend limited time and not able to apply my skill set where it is needed. There is little or no practical training for these type of cases. New staff need to know how to manage them and the offenders for whom disguised compliance is the order of the day and professional curiosity is off the scale.

I am mentally withdrawing from it all, but am not ready to retire yet. However, I am sitting on the side lines here and while the onlooker always sees more of the ball game, I am looking at a relentless, unstoppable catastrophic train smash of a service.

On one of my non working days I am a volunteer where I am valued and staff are grateful for what I can do. I am grateful they have me. My tea making (puts the world to rights!) skills are well advanced and I assisted feeding someone this week which we both found of benefit. Staff don't have time which is why I am here. It keeps me grounded, gives back to the community where I cannot in my paid work and lets me believe that I am doing what I was put on this earth for, helping others.

No doubt there will be others whose response will be, to get out of the kitchen if the heat is too much or you don't like the chef's recipe. I am a probation officer at heart and soul, but I am not sure what that is nowadays and we have lost our sense of identity. I am having to learn to find another identity as retirement looms. My manager says I can't leave, because of the level of experience and lack of it in the office, but it has to happen some time, hence the urgency to pass on my years of learning to others. I can't complain at the pay either for the hours I work. 



* "I will not be going to work on Monday. I am tired. I go to work as I have done for 17 years, a once proud probation officer totally demoralised by the shit show probation has become and the disgusting treatment of staff. I go home tired and then watch politicians from both major parties condoning Israeli actions in Gaza. The actions of Hamas should have been seen for what it was-murder terrorism- but the actions of a so called democratic state which flouts international law has only exasperated the horrors. Am I depressed? Probably. Am I angry, fuck yes. I am probably fortunate that I don’t use drugs, including alcohol, to mask my thoughts. I hope the younger generation can create a better, more just world."

Friday 13 October 2023

It's All Getting Worse

From these three most recent contributions that have come in, it would seem that although things seem to be getting worse, the civil service machine just grinds on going through the motions with absolutely no intention of listening or changing anything for the better. This really does need some urgent attention before things go beyond the point of no return.  

I was on a training event the other day with probation. Staff, my god I have never met such a bunch of miserable, unsympathetic, condemning individuals in all my life, my god I know you are overworked and paid rubbish but lots of your colleagues are dreadful.

I’ve read this several times, I want to say what nonsense but I think people have changed and I think the lack of agency we now have over our own work, the constant stress and unremitting pressure has led to this. It is nasty in our workplace and it feels like we are at the coal face chipping away and shovelling as hard as we can but everything just gets worse. I honestly think the only humanity and kindness I encounter is from PoPs ( “call them that / no don’t call them that, write it in full don’t abbreviate it’s disrespectful, we’ve changed our minds on this one”). I really wish the treatment of us by senior managers was exposed but we are not one, we are divided without any sense of collective identity and as soon as anyone speaks up, a colleague will say the opposite, even about someone’s direct experience. It is just nasty. PO 170% caseload, unable to sleep and trying to plan my forthcoming day.

They've extended the People's Survey. They did this last year and let's be clear - there is only one reason to do this and it's because they're worried about numbers. All they care about is the numbers. They do not care about your carefully worded complaints; they will not even read them. All they care about is numbers because numbers can be spun as engagement. They're not stupid, they've seen the research about poorly engaged work forces, about stress, about over work and burn out. But if they get numbers in the survey they can convince themselves everything is all right.

We've completed the People's Survey (some of us, ex-CRC joined later) since 2014 and everything has got worse. We're paid less and made to do more work. We're required to absorb more change and more chaos. The people we work with get treated worse and worse by the system. Completing the survey has never mitigated any of these issues - they've all got worse.

So, the only way to fully express our contempt and distress is to not complete the survey. It is the only message they understand. Don't do it. Lie to your manager when they ask - they will never know so just lie. They will be asked to account for the poor levels of completion and engagement. It is our best weapon - use it.

Saturday 7 October 2023

Look At The Alternative

Ok, yesterday I said I'd refrain from commenting on the extraordinary goings-on at the Conservative party conference, but since then I've had the opportunity of watching on catch-up all three episodes of Laura Kuenssberg's 'State of Chaos' and Ch4's 'Partygate'. We lived through all this, but it's only when you re-live it in concentrated form that it smacks you in the face just what an utter shower of shit the Tory Party had become under serial liar and self-obsessed incompetent Boris Johnson and the really horrid corrosive effect it's had on our democratic structures and institutions. 

The outfit is rotten to the core and Rishi Sunak continued to take the piss out of us all with that speech the other day, making stuff up, stoking up hate, inciting culture wars and promising the world with a fake alternative transport plan written by 12yr olds. The Guardian neatly demolishes it:-   

Ten problems with Rishi Sunak’s Network North announcement

Prospectus repeats old promises, ditches others and demonstrates an elastic definition of ‘the north’

Life moves fast when you’re Rishi Sunak. On Tuesday, he insisted he was not going to be bounced into making a quick decision on HS2. Within 24 hours he was standing up at Conservative party conference heralding a new transport network.

Not only did he scrap HS2 north of Birmingham, dismissing it as “the ultimate example of the old consensus”, but he had somehow found time to sign off a 40-page prospectus for Network North. Subtitle: Transforming British Transport.

Though no one could possibly believe the document was actually drawn up during a conference all-nighter, it did bear all the hallmarks of something rustled up in a hurry. And some of the things Sunak has said since have illustrated a significant lack of understanding of the realities of transport in the north of England and/or a forgetfulness around what he or his predecessors had already announced.

Here are 10 dodgy bits in and around the Network North announcement:

1 – The front-page map of the prospectus seems to relocate Manchester to Preston.

2 – It says new funding to Greater Manchester could mean the Metrolink tram network being extended to Manchester airport. The airport link opened in 2014.

3 – Labour analysis of Sunak’s promises found 85% had already been promised or committed to during the Conservatives’ 13-year reign.

4 – In a promotional video to promote Network North, Sunak said he would quadruple the number of trains between Sheffield and Leeds. As the travel journalist Simon Calder pointed out, there are already five an hour each way, and so Sunak appeared to be promising 20 trains an hour – one every three minutes – which would essentially turn the route into a tube line. Great news for God’s own county! Alas, it seems the prime minister failed to read the small print of Network North, which promised to increase the number of fast trains between these two Yorkshire cities to three or four an hour.

5 – After Sunak’s speech on Wednesday, the government issued a list of projects to which it was committed. One of these read: “The Leamside line, closed in 1964, will also be reopened.” Come Thursday morning, the promise to reinstate the 21-mile route in County Durham had mysteriously disappeared from the Network North prospectus. The transport minister Richard Holden told the local democracy reporting service the government was now only “committed to looking into it”.

6 – Sunak has a very elastic definition of the “north”, with Network North promising to improve rail connections to Plymouth, which is 250 miles from Crewe – the Cheshire town that many people see as the gateway to the north of England.

7 – Speaking of Crewe, it went from being a key hub on HS2 to being probably the biggest loser of the cancellation debacle. This once great railway town is mentioned only in passing in Network North, when there is talk of £1bn investment in the north Wales main line, which starts in Crewe.

8 – There is little in Network North about creating new capacity on the chockablock west coast main line north of Birmingham, particularly the Castlefield corridor into Manchester, which is classed by Network Rail as “officially congested”. According to Craig Browne, the deputy leader of Cheshire East council, “the rail journey from Crewe to Manchester on the west coast main line is mostly two tracks [one in each direction], which means you can only go at the speed of the slowest train.” HS2 was supposed to take the fastest intercity services off the main line, freeing up space for far more local stopping services.

9 – Bristol – which is north of Devon and Cornwall and not a lot else in England – also had its opportunities snatched away with a quick swipe of the delete key. On Wednesday, government documents promised “£100m for a mass transit system for Bristol to revolutionise travel in and around Bristol”. On Thursday, that pledge had vanished. It appeared to have been replaced with a broader pledge to give the West of England combined authority £100m, which it could spend on various things in their region.

10 – Network North committed to upgrading the A259 from Bognor Regis to that well-known northern city of Southampton, but on Thursday ministers admitted they actually meant Littlehampton, 45 miles away.


We're now clearly in full election mode and yesterday's Scottish by-election result for Labour gives an indication that thankfully we could be in for a significant change of direction. Ok Labour might just turn out to be 'blue Labour', but it surely can't be as bad as what we've been enduring, can it? When people jibe at Joe Biden for his age and lack of dynamism, he reminds everyone of the alternative. Indeed.