Thursday 29 February 2024

Prison Population to Rocket

I notice the latest prison population projections have been published today:-

Prison Population Projections 2023 to 2028, England and Wales 

This bulletin presents prison population projections for England and Wales from December 2023 to March 2028. It is produced to aid policy development, capacity planning and resource allocation within the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).

The prison population is projected to increase to between 94,600 and 114,800 by March 2028, with a central estimate of 105,800. This projected long-term increase is predicated on several factors, including continued growth in police charging and prosecutorial activity and falling Crown Court outstanding caseloads (both of which could increase inflows into the prison system and in turn the prison population), and changes in sentencing policy and behaviour to keep the most serious offenders in prison for longer.


This bulletin presents prison population projections for England and Wales from December 2023 to March 2028. It is produced to aid policy development, capacity planning and resource allocation within the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). The latest published useable operational capacity (23rd February 2024) is 89,041.. 

The projections are produced using a model of flows of offenders into and out of prison which estimates the resulting prison population each month. A key driver for future prison population (and a major source of uncertainty for these projections) is the volume and composition of cases entering the criminal courts, i.e. upstream demand. To illustrate the impact of these upstream demand assumptions, three plausible scenarios have been agreed between the MoJ, the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, and this publication presents the prison population projection as a range based on these scenarios. The projected prison population range presented here only estimates the impact of differing upstream demand assumptions and therefore does not represent the full range of uncertainty surrounding the projections. All three scenarios are presented from December 2023 to March 2028 and are considered to be plausible outcomes of the growth of the prison population over the next five years. This differs from the previous publication which only presented the central scenario over a three-year horizon. 

Alongside incoming demand, the size of the prison population over 2023 to 2028 is also expected to increase due to courts addressing growth in the outstanding caseload that has been seen since 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns restricted the courts’ ability to process cases through 2020 and 2021 and the Criminal Bar Association disruptive action between April and October 2022 also affected court proceedings, leading to further growth in the outstanding caseload. Over the first three quarters of 2023, Crown Court disposal volumes increased but remained below receipts, meaning the outstanding caseload continued to increase. 

The projections also incorporate the estimated impacts of agreed sentencing policies, including the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, and the Release of Prisoners Order 20205 which include provisions to increase custody time for violent and sexual offenders sentenced to a standard determinate sentence of 4 to 7 years and over 7 years, respectively.

Since there is considerable uncertainty around the assumptions in these areas, the prison population will likely differ from what has been projected – there is a more detailed discussion regarding uncertainty in Section 2.


Do we really want to continue down this path? I notice the Bishop of Gloucester and Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons suggests we need to change the narrative. That sounds like a good idea:- 

Bishop Rachel speaks out on sentencing

As we venture towards a General Election at some time this year, the prison population is approaching 90,000 underpinned by a rhetoric across the political spectrum of ‘being tough on crime’. The common narrative is that locking more people up and for longer will result in stronger and safer communities. The evidence does not support this, and rates of reoffending are prolific. So, as Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons in England and Wales I am determined to be part of the solution.

Prison costs in the region of 50K per person per year, and the social and economic cost of reoffending is estimated at £18 billion per annum, thus our current system makes no sense, even if you only care about money. It is not prisons which need expanding but rather our imaginations and public understanding.

The approach to so much in society fails to start with vision, and instead focuses on short term fixes for presenting issues. This is certainly true regarding criminal justice and prisons. Yet it is only when we paint a vision of the sort of society we want to see that we will begin to respond appropriately.

As a Christian I hold fast to hope in the transforming work of God revealed in Jesus Christ, at the heart of which is the fulfillment of a vision of restored relationship. It is about the flourishing of humanity and all creation, and that is a common theme within different faiths and expressed in the longings of many people regardless of whether they are people of faith or not.

Prisons offer a window onto so much which is broken in our society. Broken relationship is evident across every aspect of our criminal justice system, not least fractured relationships in the lives of offenders, often from an early age, and the fractured lives and communities impacted by crime. Yet, prisons also have the potential to provoke us into shaping a vision for the future.

Over 40% of those in prison were expelled or excluded from school; almost 25% of adults in prison have previously been in care, rising to nearly 50% of all under 21-year-olds in contact with the criminal justice system. Furthermore, it is estimated that 300,000 children a year have a parent in prison, and of those over half of boys go on to commit an offence. These are just a few of the stark statistics which reflect our failure to create a criminal justice system which focuses on relationship and which looks both upstream and downstream with a commitment to taking a long-term view, holding before us a vision of restoration and transformation in the lives of individuals, families and communities.

Against this backdrop of a commitment to a different future, I convened a roundtable discussion in Westminster in November 2023 comprised of experts from the field of criminal justice, including academics, MPs and Peers, CEOs of leading organisations, and those with lived experience of prison. Under Chatham House rules we sought to identify some significant steps towards prison reform. The intention is to further conversations and action in our different spheres of influence, including the vital need for clarity, not least among wider society, as to what prison is for.

If we truly want safer and stronger communities, including respect and care for victims of crime (noting that offenders are also often victims), then punishment can only ever be part of the picture. Rehabilitation and purposeful training and activity must be a major focus within prisons, and continue beyond the prison gate. These points have been repeatedly made by Charlie Taylor, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and one of the roundtable participants.

Furthermore, given that prison staff have the potential to shape a rehabilitative and relational culture when led by an inspiring and motivated Governor, it is shocking that they are undervalued, with initial training being a matter of weeks with negligible investment in further development and support. There is much which could be gleaned from the innovative ‘Unlocked Graduates’ programme whose CEO, took part in the Westminster discussion.

While crime should never be condoned, prison is rarely the only answer to the problem – so, with vision, we would be more courageous in establishing alternatives to the revolving door of prison and the repeated pattern of fractured relationship. Such solutions would include ever-more imaginative community-based initiatives; not using prison as a place to accommodate people with severe mental health problems; and shaping alternative interventions for many whose offending is rooted in drug addiction. With a clear vision we could do better join-up across issues, with a willingness to look upstream and downstream, including the strong shining of light on the importance of enabling offenders to develop and strengthen meaningful and healthy relationships – a point emphasised by another roundtable participant, Lord Farmer, in his 2017 government review on family ties.

The Westminster roundtable agreed this all requires national debate, not least regarding sentencing as recommended in the 2022 Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-Term Prisoners, chaired by a previous Bishop for Prisons, The Right Revd James Jones. Indeed, as was highlighted at the roundtable, if there is to be meaningful progress regarding prison reform and using available funds effectively, then we need to work persistently and creatively at changing the public narrative. In 2024 I hope it will be possible to create a groundswell across a diversity of media outlets and public figures willing to influence the debate and be part of that drive to expand our imaginations while resisting the expansion of prisons and the prison population.

The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons in England and Wales

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Guest Blog 95

The Bob Hall Test

Well then. 38 years since I stumbled into a job in Community Service, here I am on retirement eve. A family bereavement has pushed this life event into the sidelines till now and puts me in a valedictory frame of mind.

I’m going a wee bit early, a year short of state retirement age. It’s going to be financially cramped but I had absolutely run out of steam.

Casting my eye back, a couple of snapshots: First up: catching a job in Community Service in Bristol in the 1980s. I had absolutely no idea what the job was. I was living on a boat in the chilly Bristol docks and the job came with a heating system, some cash, and was recommended by the lovely partner of the folksinger in the local pub. Only a few weeks in I was enthralled. I mean, wow, the State funded an organisation that worked alongside citizens who had fallen between the cracks of the state and broken its laws. We wanted them to do well. This organisation was imbued with a culture of social justice, a healthy suspicion of The State, and crucially, it was fun. It was actually fun to go to work. Uplifting. We liked each other, we respected our management, we took our responsibilities to our clients very seriously.

Second up: The Bob Hall Question. While I was training in Cornwall as a TPO, 2001- ish, I was mentored by the wonderful Bob Hall, PO. He was funny, brilliant, wise, humane. He called me “Grasshopper” (Kung fu, catch up younger readers). He had left his calling in the church but hung onto his pastoral mission. He was an old school Probation Officer, an inspirational role model with various sayings, one of which was “nobody in my caseload fails probation for not turning up” … he would drive home calling on any clients who hadn’t attended during the day to lodge the encounter in the records. He knew everyone on his patch. Another was “C’mon Su, we’ll do this the old-fashioned way”. This was to insert ourselves into the family home and “intervene” from there, counselling doting mums to try some tough love, persuade the landlord to hang off from eviction, trudge down to the CAB office to sort out benefits, check on how the kids were doing. As Bob neared the end of his days, he asked, poignantly “Did I make a difference?”

Spending most of my career in Probation management, I kept The Bob Hall Test in my head for the duration. Will it make a difference? While battling increasing managerialism early this century, at one point the Bob Hall Test was formally written into the analysis of new initiatives and any assessment of how much the team would sign up.

Did I make a difference is the question we should all ask ourselves every day. Top down. “Did I hit the targets?” is an incidental, secondary issue, and if the first test isnt met, the second is irrelevant.

Nearly four decades in, I reckon I can count on the fingers of one hand, maybe two at a stretch, the people I have worked with where I have assisted a really positive difference – and, sidenote, all of them clients with whom I had long lasting relationships. That is maybe a good enough tally. There are plenty who I have just eased through the system with as little mishap as possible. I can also number on the fingers of one, maybe two, hands the number of people on whom I have inflicted Enforcement, be it breach or recall.

I have been and remain, a signed up, subs paying Napo member, rep, and activist. Sadly, I can no longer represent individual members, but there is a fight to be fought for the heart and soul of Probation. I will endeavour to keep that up, but the ability to represent something you are no longer part of is difficult. The Bob Hall Test applies to all that work too.

I don’t believe in any hereafter, but should I have got that wrong, when challenged by St Peter (other religions are available) I will call up as witnesses those few wonderful, courageous people who turned themselves around, against all the odds, while I was on their case: hence my nom de plume Pearly Gates.

I am off to my lovely Probation team tomorrow for a last day. Don’t know whether I will laugh or cry.

Over and out

Su McConnel

Monday 19 February 2024

Probation Must be Free of Civil Service

I'll start this post with a great contribution from regular reader 'Getafix, prompted by Saturday's post referencing my talk on Friday:-
"It's often said that probation work is grounded in the relationship between the offender and the PO, yet if any relationship exists today it's one based on fear. One side of the desk perpetually fearful of recall, the other side perpetually fearful of an SFO."

One of the many subjects touched upon in my talk is that of the civil service. Who on earth would wish to be associated with an institution seemingly dedicated to being as shitty as possible to vast swathes of the population? Whether it's the Windrush generation; asylum seekers; illegal migrants; benefit claimants; the sick; disabled; unemployed; etc etc; all these groups are increasingly being treated dreadfully by a compliant and complicit civil service thoroughly corrupted by 14 years of increasingly right wing governments. This from the Guardian three days ago:-

Jobcentres told to stop referring benefit claimants to food banks

DWP briefing says jobcentres should no longer issue ‘signposting slips’ over concerns about data privacy

Jobcentre officials have been ordered to stop referring penniless benefit claimants to food banks because it breaches data privacy law, in a move charities have warned will cause delays in crisis help for thousands of hungry households.

For years the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has allowed jobcentres to issue DWP-designed “signposting slips”, which allow claimants to access local food banks, many of which will not give out food parcels without a formal referral.

However, an internal DWP briefing seen by the Guardian says it will no longer issue the slips – which require the name of the claimant and brief details, such as the number of children in the household – because they amount to “inappropriate use of personal claimant data”.

Can you imagine what it must feel like to be a decent, caring civil servant when orders like this come down from the top/ Oh hang on a minute - probation officers are now civil servants. My contention is absolutely clear - you cannot be a civil servant and a probation officer - there is a fundamental incompatibility in being part of a top down command and control structure. Probation cannot be repaired unless it returns to some form of independent QANGO structure.


Happily there is some good news on the horizon because former senior civil servant Sue Gray in her new role as Keir Starmer's chief of staff is beginning to spell out how a future Labour administration would go about changing various toxic structures and processes This today on the website:- 

Labour will introduce citizens' assemblies after 'transformational' success in Ireland

The Labour Party has said it is drawing up plans to introduce “citizens’ assemblies” which could be used to bypass Whitehall and make key decisions. Sue Gray, the chief of staff to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, has ­said in her first interview in the role that plans are being worked on to involve the public directly in deciding contentious issues.

Gray, who is in charge of the party’s preparations for government, said such assemblies could give the public a say in constitutional reform, devolution and the location of new houses. Keir Starmer has pledged to build 1.5 million new homes in his first term as prime minister, if the Labour Party wins the general election later this year. It has been suggested that the commitment is likely to draw criticism from so-called “nimbys” — those who say “not in my backyard” to housebuilding.

Meanwhile, recent reports have suggested that Starmer intends to delay a previously touted plan to abolish the House of Lords. A report in the Financial Times earlier this month suggested Labour would only implement limited reforms to the Lords in order to focus on economic priorities. The party had previously committed to scrapping the upper house in a first five-year parliament.

Labour’s plan to introduce citizens’ assemblies is described in a biography of Starmer by Tom Baldwin, which is being serialised in The Times newspaper. Gray has told Baldwin of the “transformational” success of citizens’ juries in Ireland that had built consensus for constitutional changes, such as the end to the ban on abortion and allowing gay marriage.

However, she also acknowledged that the plans would face resistance in government, saying: “Whitehall will not like this because they have no control.”

In Ireland, a “Citizens’ Assembly” is tasked with deliberating on matters of national importance. It is typically made up of 99 randomly selected members of the public and one appointed chairperson. Invitations are sent to randomly-selected households, and from those who agree to take part, members are subsequently selected to reflect Irish society in terms of age, gender, social class and regional spread. Recent questions considered include: abortion, fixed-term parliaments, referendums, population ageing, and climate change.

In the UK, Gray has said the assemblies could be used to get agreement on Lords reform, devolution and housebuilding. Citing opposition to these proposals, Gray said: “[A citizens’ assembly] is one way we can help resolve these questions by involving communities at an early stage.”

Saturday 17 February 2024

We Can Change Things

Yesterday was a significant day for me because after some 14 years hammering away on these keys of a succession of laptops, I decided to accept a kind invitation to speak at a West Yorkshire Napo branch meeting. This was a big decision because I've never wanted this endeavour to be focused on me, but rather a platform for all who care about the world of probation to discuss, debate and share thoughts, experiences and concerns. I know it's provided support and comfort to many through some very dark times and that's great because sometimes it can help to know you are not alone and there are colleagues who have had similar experiences and worries.

The invitation came out of the blue and in a way I surprised myself by accepting without hesitation. Upon reflection, the time just seemed right. I've been aware for ages that the audience was changing as experienced staff inevitably slipped away through retirement or disillusionment and they've not been replaced by newer colleagues for a variety of reasons. I've also become painfully aware of a growing toxic work environment, but most significantly that probation was losing grasp of what it was for and that it had become part of the problem rather than the solution. I find this deeply troubling and something I want to be part of changing.

This is election year and there is real hope of change being possible. A lot of nonsense will be spouted by the likes of the Daily Mail on the crime and punishment front and there's work to be done in countering this, as well as trying to influence sensible policy decisions of any incoming alternative administration. We know this process is well under way in Wales and it would be ridiculous if England was to remain an embarrassing outlier in its treatment of probation delivery. There must be a comprehensive probation review and the service must break free from HM Prison Service and the dead hand of the civil service.

So, once again I sense that the blog will need to enter campaigning mode. I was hugely energised by my reception yesterday and I want to warmly thank all those who turned up both in person and online. There were many young faces and I sensed a mood to get involved and that it was possible rather than just accept the way things are as a result of unrelenting top down command and control directives. Probation was never like this, but rather an organisation that encouraged innovation, thoughtful reflection and respect for all those engaged and on whatever side of the desk they sat. I think we can regain this ideal by talking together and getting involved. 

I'll round this off by saying I'm very happy to speak to other branches if it is felt it might be helpful and I would remind readers that I'm always keen to publish, anonymously, reflective pieces on any aspect of probation work. I can be contacted on

Thanks again for reading and your support.   


I've known for some time that the blog gets a wide international audience, especially in the USA and it's been brought to my attention that in a very recent poll it ranked third in "10 most popular (probation) blogs and websites" after Massachusetts Probation Service and Probation Officers Professional Association of Indiana. How about that?             

Thursday 15 February 2024

The SPO Role

Continuing with the theme of probation in Wales going its own way, it's interesting to note that both HMPI reports into the role of SPOs published last month include description of the new work in Probation in Wales on the "Human Factors Model" which "acknowledges that we all make mistakes and that we must learn from these", as well as "understanding better why things go right most of the time.” Lets look at the first:-

The role of the senior probation officer and management oversight in the Probation Service


The Probation Service manages a complex and challenging caseload. The work of probation practitioners in court and sentence management teams is fundamental to the Service’s ability to protect the public. Our probation inspection programme found that, where it was required, the quality of management oversight was insufficient in 72 per cent of the inspected cases. It is therefore vital that effective management oversight arrangements are in place. This is currently not the case. We found that management oversight policies are applied inconsistently, and this is underpinned by a defensive operational culture. This undermines the quality of decision-making and the confidence of operational staff and is of serious concern. 

A revised framework is required to enable both day-to-day decision-making and the proactive assurance of cases. Only 39 per cent of senior probation officers in our survey believe that the current management oversight policies meet the needs of probation service delivery, and the probation caseload. Lines of responsibility are not clear, and in relation to staff supervision and oversight, policy implementation has not been well coordinated. It is therefore unsurprising that many operational staff lack confidence in the current framework and are uncertain as to their responsibilities. 

Operational staff in Wales have responded positively to the introduction of the ‘human factors’ approach in sentence management. The new operational structure has resulted in a less frenetic working culture and more considered decision-making. The resilience of this structure and its impact on the quality of delivery still need to be evaluated. However, we welcome the proactive arrangements now in place to meet the challenges of the probation caseload. 

The senior probation officer role should focus on service delivery, and the management oversight and development of their team. The spans of responsibility of the current role prevent this, and their focus is too often on non-operational tasks. This undermines the senior probation officer’s ability to deliver effective management control. Until this is addressed, their focus on operational delivery will continue to be diluted. 

We have expressed concerns about the senior probation officer workload in previous reports, and those concerns remain. Internal probation service reviews have also found the workload to be excessive. During this inspection, we met and heard from many senior probation officers who had unacceptably high workloads across a wide range of responsibilities. Additional administrative support has been provided and there has been significant success in filling vacancies. The responsibilities of the role have, however, remained unchanged. 

The role of the senior probation officer and arrangements for management oversight in the Probation Service need to be reviewed. This will, now, take place within a merged ‘One HMPPS’ governance structure for prisons and probation services. It is important that operational staff are consulted meaningfully and that new policies are grounded in the realities of the probation caseload. Our recommendations, if followed, are designed to support senior probation officers to focus on the oversight of work and, in so doing, to improve public protection. 

Sue McAllister 
Interim HM Chief Inspector of Probation January 2024

Executive summary 


The role of the senior probation officer (SPO) and the delivery of management oversight are central to effective sentence management and court work in the Probation Service. The probation caseload is complex and challenging. It is therefore important that the teams delivering these key services in courts and the community are supported and that their work is overseen effectively. Since before the unification of the Probation Service, there have been concerns about the workload of SPOs and the effectiveness of management oversight. These concerns have continued following the findings from HM Inspectorate of Probation’s core inspection programme 2021–2023 and recent high-profile Serious Further Offence (SFO) independent reviews. The formation of the unified service has seen several policy initiatives in relation to management oversight – notably, the touch points model (TPM) and the reflective practice supervision standards (RPSS). In addition, the Probation Service managerial role review (HMPPS, 2022) considered the pressures and workload of the SPO in sentence management and court teams. 

This inspection examined the effectiveness of the current arrangements and policies. It focused on management oversight and the SPO role in sentence management and court work because it is in these teams that the key decisions in relation to risk and public protection are taken. As part of this examination, we considered whether the current operating structure meets the requirement of managing the dynamic probation caseload. 


We undertook fieldwork in five probation regions and held focus groups with the key staff groups, including senior staff and operational managers. In the 15 SPO focus groups we met a total of 94 SPOs. In the probation practitioner (PP) focus groups, we met a total of 82 PPs. Fieldwork was also undertaken with senior leaders in the national HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) teams. 

We also circulated a national survey to all SPOs which included key questions on management oversight and their responsibilities. A total of 392 SPOs completed this survey, which was 27 per cent of the total number of SPOs in post at that time. In the regions, we also asked SPOs in sentence management and court teams to complete an activity survey. We received 29 responses. 

The management oversight data from our core inspection programme was analysed in relation to SPO vacancy rates and spans of control. 

Policy, strategy, and staffing 

There is no overall strategy for the delivery of effective management oversight in the Probation Service. Different management oversight frameworks for casework and performance management have been introduced, but not as part of a coherent framework. This has contributed to the confusion and uncertainty felt by operational staff. In the future, sentence management and courts will sit in the chief probation officer’s directorate, which will have responsibility for management oversight policy. It is important that the views of frontline staff and an understanding of the probation caseload inform decision-making in the new structure. 

Following a cultural assessment of the organisation, the probation service in Wales has adopted a learning organisation model. Central to this is the implementation of a ‘human factors’ approach in the sentence management teams. A premise of the approach is that humans are fallible, and errors are to be expected, even in the best organisations. The analysis of culture and clarity of communication that supported implementation in Wales is impressive and has helped to embed it in the organisation. Sustaining this change and learning from the experience will now be key. More widely, regional leaders are cautious, doubting that there is an appetite, nationally, for the adoption of a systems-based approach to learning.

Staffing levels for SPOs and PPs have improved but the Probation Service has an inexperienced workforce. This contributes to the dependence and lack of confidence of PPs. Some regions continue to experience high vacancy levels. This inevitably increases the stress on teams, directly affecting the availability, and quality, of management oversight. 

The effectiveness of management oversight in sentence management and court teams

Overall, we found a reactive management oversight culture. SPOs are generally dependent on PPs raising concerns with them before they examine a case. One-to-one supervision meetings between SPOs and PPs have a broad agenda, restricting the time available to review cases. Only 39 per cent of SPO respondents working in sentence management thought that the current management oversight policies met the needs of probation service delivery and the probation caseload. 

The implementation of the TPM and the RPSS varied across the regions. The TPM ensures that all cases are reviewed by an SPO at some point during the management of the case. However, the model is inflexible, and this can precipitate unnecessary management activity. It was introduced with complex recording instructions which are used inconsistently across the regions. In most of the inspected regions, there was little evidence that planned RPSS sessions were taking place. 

In the inspected English regions, we were told that a culture of fear was becoming embedded. This is driven primarily by the fear of SFOs and the consequent need to evidence management oversight activity. This undermines the confidence of PPs, and the effectiveness and quality of management oversight practice. The SPO review (HMPPS, 2020) recognised that the demand placed on SPOs to countersign work was excessive. A countersigning framework was introduced in February 2022 and relaunched in May 2023. However, this has not reduced the burden. 

The human factors approach in Wales has improved team communication and provides a more responsive approach to the oversight of cases. Morning check-in meetings and SPO protected hours are now central to operational delivery. This provides a more effective model for managing the probation caseload, particularly in relation to changes in the level of risk of serious harm. It allows for, and anticipates, crises in line with the often complex, challenging, non-compliant reality of the individuals managed. 

The demands of the court environment are recognised in the management oversight arrangements for court teams. These teams have a large proportion of probation services officers (PSOs) working in them and they could consult either an SPO or a probation officer on matters such as the risk of serious harm or curfew requirements. However, the gatekeeping arrangements for court reports are inconsistent. This is partly due to staffing levels, but also the demands of the court’s timescale. However, all reports on individuals assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm are gatekept by a qualified PP or SPO. 

The SPO role and the operational structure 

The current management structure and arrangements for the delivery of sentence management do not enable effective management oversight. The structure does not anticipate the demands, or the complexities, of the probation caseload. It is dependent on SPOs being available to make decisions when crises arise. The nature of the caseload means that key management consultations and decisions are needed outside of planned oversight meetings, and the operational arrangements for sentence management should reflect this requirement. 

The SPO span of responsibility includes non-operational tasks, such as facilities management and health and safety. There has been an improvement to the support given to SPOs with the introduction of the case administrator and the relaunch of the managerial hubs for human resources (HR) issues. However, in our national survey, only 17 per cent of sentence management SPOs said that they had time to deliver effective management oversight on cases. 

Unlike the English regions, in Wales the quality development officer (QDO) is located within the probation delivery unit (PDU) structure. Under this line management arrangement, they are involved more directly in operational delivery and more able to look at specific areas of practice relevant to the PDU teams. 

There is no national SPO induction and training programme. The English regions and Wales have developed their own induction and development programmes. A Civil Service e-learning package on generic management skills is available, alongside the recently launched HMPPS ‘people manager handbook’. However, these arrangements do not fully meet the requirements of the SPO role’s demands and complexity.


HM Prison and Probation Service should: 

1. ensure that HMPPS delivers a clear policy framework for management oversight and first-tier assurance that meets the demands of the probation caseload 

2. ensure that effective management oversight arrangements are in place at the regional and PDU level to assure the quality of work to protect the public 

3. review the business support functions in relation to facilities management and human resources, to ensure that SPOs are focused on the management oversight of casework 

4. design and implement a comprehensive induction and professional development programme for all SPOs working in sentence management and the courts 

5. fully evaluate the human factors approach adopted in Wales and consider implementing it across the English regions 

6. review the operating model to consider locating QDOs within the PDU governance structure, in line with the approach taken in Wales.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

A Golden Opportunity

Regular readers of this blog will be fully aware that, whatever criteria you choose to look at, probation as practiced since amalgamation with HM Prison Service, under civil service command and control, is utterly dysfunctional, toxic and failing miserably. Something has to change and I notice Su McConnel of Napo Cymru ably outlines the case in this article published by the Fabian Society:-


Wales can lead the way with a devolved probation service after years of botched reforms, writes Su McConnel 

The renewed media attention afforded to the Post Office scandal sends a very strong signal to all organisations that not listening to frontline staff can result in human misery, organisational dysfunction, and reputational damage. The history of probation in UK over the last decade reflects many of the mistakes made by Post Office management in discounting the realities of frontline service. Despite being told frequently by unions and serving and experienced staff and managers that partially privatising the service – and, more recently, merging probation and prisons – would not work, ministers in the Ministry of Justice made and are continuing to make disastrous decisions because of a ‘we know best’ culture.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons has described Britain’s overcrowded prisons as a ‘ticking time bomb’. In response, new legislation and other measures have been announced, including early release of certain prisoners and a reduction in short prison sentences.

What these measures have in common is establishing the probation system as a key component of the proposed solution. However, probation faces its own ticking time bomb. The fuse was lit in 2014 with the catastrophic “Transforming Rehabilitation” (TR) part-privatisation plan.

Today, the UK’s probation system suffers from a poorly defined purpose, identity and culture. Its now retired strapline “advise, assist, befriend” served for a century to anchor the service to its social work roots and made it a crucial counterweight to the punitive roles and cultures of other criminal justice agencies. Embedded in its local communities; healing, restorative, nurturing; based around a strong social justice ethos; the probation system had championed an approach which empirical research continues to demonstrate is the most effective for rehabilitation and public protection. Under the Blair government, attempts to reshape probation driven by political expediency (with home office minister Paul Boateng reframing the probation service as “an enforcement agency”) could not shake the sector’s steadfast adherence to its original principles and values, not least as probation then operated as a number of quasi-independent local services.

Chris Grayling’s 2014 reforms, however, were a different story. Transforming Rehabilitation which was the bang that finally blew this historic mission apart.

Five years later, the privatised model established by Grayling was described as ‘irredeemably flawed’ by the outgoing Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey. The reintegration of the probation service into the public sector followed soon after; but, critically, probation was simultaneously engulfed by a new department, HM Prison and Probation Service. As probation frontline staff are wont to remark ruefully, probation is the ‘silent p’ in HMPPS. Centrally controlled, bureaucratic and in a forced unequal marriage with the prison service, probation as a distinct agency of the criminal justice system continued to face just as existential a threat as it did during the Transforming Rehabilitation fiasco.

In HMPPS, the probation service has been subject to further damning inspection reports. Like Stacey, her successor as Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, used his final report in September 2023 to call for a major overhaul. “I think the time has come for an independent review of whether probation should move back to a more local form of governance and control,” he said, observing that “probation leaders (…) often feel heavily constrained” and “play second fiddle to the priorities of the prison service to which they are tied in the new One HMPPS structure”.

As probation frontline staff are wont to remark ruefully, probation is the ‘silent p’ in HMPPS

Meanwhile, as the service underwent botched reforms of the botched reforms, the Thomas Commission on Justice in Wales was gathering evidence and published its report in 2019. This recommended the wholesale devolution of justice to Wales. Probation union Napo was already campaigning for probation in England and Wales to be separated from the prison service and removed from civil service control; following the Thomas Report, Napo backed devolution. In December 2022, Gordon Brown’s report, A New Britain, specifically recommended the devolution of probation and youth justice to Wales, and in March 2023, Welsh Labour conference voted unanimously to endorse this plan. The Welsh Government has been making practical, researched evidence-based preparations, supported by justice sector unions in Wales.

If our once proud “gold standard” probation service is to be recovered, time is short. The relentless machinery of the civil service motors inexorably towards the increasing merger of probation into the prison service, where it will not survive in anything but name. That relentless machinery is less tangible than the personality of Grayling and a single piece of notorious legislation, but it is just as destructive. A once effective and world-leading service will be extinguished, and in the maelstrom of shrill political justice rhetoric and a public spending crisis, it will disappear with a whimper, not a bang.

The debate about the devolution of justice to Wales is underway, but it will be a long process. The probation service is in imminent peril. In 2019 probation in Wales was reunified in the public sector ahead of the same exercise in England in 2021. Wales can again lead the way in establishing a locally based, devolved service, rooted in social justice principles: the groundwork is already under way.

Whether the probation and youth justice proposal is the thin end of the justice devolution wedge or a single reform remains to be seen. What is already clear is that this is a heaven-sent opportunity for a new Labour government to start to right the wrongs of Grayling’s catastrophic Transforming Rehabilitation debacle.

Su McConnel

Saturday 10 February 2024

Some Sound Advice

Facilitated by HM Probation Inspectorate, here we have Professor Rob Canton taking just 5 minutes to explain the essence of probation. Sadly, the fact of the matter is it is simply not achievable whilst under civil service command and control and shackled to HM Prison Service.  

Reflections from research

These five minute reflections from research videos are aimed at all those interested in the key lessons from probation and youth justice research studies. Reflecting upon their work, leading academics set out their top pieces of advice for the delivery of high-quality probation and/or youth offending services. The videos help to provide a rounded view of the evidence base, assisting with informed debate and aiding understanding of what helps and what hinders service delivery.

Thursday 8 February 2024

Case For Change is Building

Whilst in England things seem to have gone very quiet on the subject of getting the Probation Service out of the iron grip and stifling bureaucracy of HMPPS, in Wales steady progress continues to be made in building the case for probation to become a standalone agency once again. In what is after all election year, it's to be hoped the Labour Party in England might yet be encouraged to take an active interest in the obviously failing and nationalised service and follow the advice of former HMI Justin Russell and others to re-establish an independent and locally based service. This from the University of South Wales:-  

Devolved probation powers and a ‘stronger evidence-based approach’ could improve community safety and social justice

A group of academics from Welsh universities, along with current and former probation officers, have published ideas on the future of the Probation Service in Wales. This comes after the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales published its report in recent weeks recommending the devolution of probation to Wales.

The Probation Development Group, part of the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice (WCCSJ) which includes academics from the University of South Wales, Bangor University and Swansea University, has set out evidence and ways of working for developing a devolved probation service in Wales.

The publication includes thinking on a new independent probation service centred on the supervisory relationship between the probation officer and the probationer, better use of evidenced-based interventions, local resources, and strong partnerships.

The group also highlights the important role of the community and community sentences, to promote effective rehabilitation and victim safety.

Probation delivered effectively, the group say, can lead to less costly imprisonment, reductions in offending, and safer communities with fewer victims of crime.

Swansea University Criminology lecturer and former senior probation officer, Ella Rabaiotti, who convenes the Probation Development Group, said: “Whilst we recognise that more disruption within probation is far from ideal, we do think there needs to be to a stronger evidenced-based approach to probation work to help address the real disparities in Welsh criminal justice outcomes.

“It will be for policymakers to decide on the shape of a Welsh Probation Service in proper consultation with the appropriate stakeholders, but there is significant learning offered in our publication to potentially improve community safety and social justice for all communities in Wales.”

In putting forward their proposals to the Welsh Government, the independent expert group has drawn from decades of research and experience in probation practice and governance. Their work aims to contribute to the Welsh Government's justice policy plans, following the conclusions of the Thomas Commission which found that the current criminal justice system is not serving the people of Wales. They say this has now been further reinforced by the new report from the Independent Commission.

The Welsh group’s views follow concerns by the outgoing Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell who stated that probation standards have ‘worsened’ in the last two years. And the latest findings from the Wales Governance Centre state that the Welsh imprisonment rate continues to exceed any other part of the UK.

The Probation Development Group plan to use their publications to assist conversations on devolving probation in Wales, as well as promoting further opportunities for research and understanding into effective probation services.

More information about the work of the Probation Development Group and the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice can be found at

A full copy of the report can be viewed here



People who work in probation in Wales are experts in change; they support change in people’s lives, whilst operating under constantly shifting organisational structures. In the last decade or so, four probation trusts across South Wales, Gwent, Dyfed and Powys and North Wales merged into Wales Probation Trust. The newly established but well performing organisation was subsequently ‘split’ into the Wales Community Rehabilitation Company and National Probation Service in 2014 and despite efforts by its Welsh leaders to implement this ‘irredeemably flawed’ policy, the two parts were reunified in 2020. Therefore, it is with some trepidation that this publication provides evidence for moving towards yet another version of a Wales probation service. 

However, the findings of the Thomas Commission emphasised that the current Welsh criminal justice system is not properly serving the people of Wales. Furthermore, renationalising is not sufficient alone to address the detrimental ‘legacies of change’ within probation (Tidmarsh, 2023)3 . To respond to this, the Welsh Government has begun planning for the devolution of justice and encouraged the Probation Development Group (PDG) to support discussions around the development of a devolved probation service for Wales. 

Whilst PDG members recognise that more uncertainty over the future of probation is far from ideal, we do think there needs to be further change in probation in Wales beyond the blueprints and partnerships between devolved and non-devolved services to fundamentally address the disparities in Welsh criminal justice outcomes. We support a devolved probation service that better serves the people of Wales and offer papers that might guide a renewal.

This publication consists of three papers prepared by the PDG which draw on a wide range of experience in research and practice in probation in Wales and beyond, including at practitioner and management levels. The papers share our thinking and draw on the evidence base for three crucial aspects for developing a devolved probation service in Wales, namely, Values and Principles, Effective Practice, and Governance and Partnerships. Common threads throughout the papers relate to the provision of an independent probation service centred on the relationship between the worker and the probationer, which takes a rights-based approach, using evidenced-based interventions, local resources and strong partnerships. Diversion of individuals from custody is central, recognising the important role of community and victim safety, as well as public protection. The papers, the issues and potential solutions raised within them have been subject to much discussion within the Probation Development Group and wider, which has helped to shape these published versions. However, we expect these conversations to evolve and for further publications to follow. We would also like to involve more probation leaders and practitioners in our thinking and reaching some conclusions, but understand, to date, this has been difficult.

The PDG has identified a fourth area which needs particular attention and research – the high imprisonment rate in Wales. This is not addressed in detail in this publication, but we would like to highlight the latest Prisons in Wales factfile (Jones, 2023). Of note, the Welsh imprisonment rate continues to exceed any part of the UK, and worrying disparities exist around homelessness for ex-prisoners, higher recall rates than England and an overrepresentation of ethnically diverse groups on probation and in prison in Wales. It is these concerns that help drive us forward – towards a devolved probation service for Wales.

Concluding remarks 

The latest model and structure of probation does not appear to be working. Drawing on over thirty inspections between June 2021 and July 2023, the outgoing Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell concluded that ‘the Probation Service is struggling’ and supervision of people on probation is ‘not at the level it should be’. He suggests an independent review is necessary to consider moving Probation back to local control. Indeed, these evidence-based papers provided by the Probation Development Group may contribute to reconsidering probation work in Wales but will also have relevance for England. Whilst these papers do not provide a blueprint for a Welsh Probation service, they offer evidence as to what has been shown to work in probation governance and practice, as well as highlighting advantages and disadvantages of certain delivery decisions. It is a task for policymakers to decide on the shape of a Welsh Probation Service in proper consultation with the various stakeholders of such as service but there is significant learning offered in our papers from research and experience on over a century of probation practice and governance developments. This set of papers merely offers support to enable the development of a Welsh Probation Service by making informed value and evidence-based choices to improve community safety and social justice for all communities in Wales.


This from Napo News:-

Independent commission recommends devolution of Probation in Wales

The report of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales is now published. Napo Cymru gave evidence to the commission, and we welcome its findings which endorse our campaign.

You can read the full report here The Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales | GOV.WALES

Napo Cymru Vice-Chair Su McConnel says: “The Independent Commission joins the rapidly growing calls for the devolution of Probation in Wales. We are nearing if not at the point where all but the architects of the current sorry state of Probation in England and Wales are calling for this.”

Su then went on to pull key highlights from the report.

Like policing, the probation service works closely with devolved services and could be transferred to the Welsh Government with minimal disruption. Following agreement in principle between the two governments, work could begin on designing a governance and accountability structure for a Welsh probation service, building on work underway by the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice.

In his foreword to the 2022-23 Annual Report of HM Inspectorate of Probation, the Chief Inspector makes a number of observations of relevance to devolution. He notes the challenges facing the service after the upheaval of four major structural reorganisation in 20 years, and expresses concern about the impact of the new, merged ‘One HMPPS’ structure for prisons and probation.

The Chief Inspector noted that: “Past experience with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is that the day-to-day operational and political demands of the prison service can all too easily distract from the Probation Service and its particular (and very different) needs.”

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

Devolution would be relatively straightforward in practice for the following reasons:
  • A Welsh probation structure and budget already exists within the HMPPS and could readily be transferred to the Welsh Government.
  • The preventative ethos of the probation service is closely aligned with the policies of the Welsh Government and the wider Welsh public service.
  • There would be an opportunity to create a structure for a Welsh probation service, in collaboration with staff, to achieve the strong partnerships and operational flexibility advocated by the Chief Inspector, as discussed above.

Sunday 4 February 2024

Some Thoughts

Many thanks for the get well messages. It's been a long haul, but I'm now much improved from the very nasty viral arthritic attack and ready to resume something like normal service. So, lets start with this that came in over night:- 

I was a court probation officer for most of the 80s and 90s, when offenders were asked to consent to being placed on probation. Interestingly, some opted to be sent to prison for a year rather than spend two years on probation. They knew that once they had done their time, they were then free to get on with their lives. That is not the case now with post sentence supervision. This is an albatross around the neck of many practitioners and generates a lot of unwelcome admin work. What lunatic thought that was a good idea? It really does set people up for failure and needs to be dropped. Huge drain on resources with little benefit. 

Also, I was thinking the other day about volunteers. Probation in many areas used volunteers to support clients with resettlement. I know this awful government wants to be seen as tough on those who commit crime (unless they are members of their cabinet or give them cash for their election campaign) but why not involve the community by establishing a local volunteer probation service that would do much of the support work that the newly qualified wet behind the ears probation officers are too busy to do. 

Also, lower the bar a little for Unpaid Work Supervisors. There are many people who are released from prison who could do that role, or indeed drug and alcohol counselling roles or employment, benefits advice or and housing advisor roles. Surely the money would be best spent there rather than on more layers of management. The probation service could be rebuilt as a local service from the grassroots. Of course the naysayers will say it's all gone to hell in a handcart, but that is because we let it happen and so if we pitch in and do our bit we can turn things around.