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.”


  1. In agreement with Getafix's contention that Probation clients are fearful of recall (or breach) and Probation Officers fearful of a SFO that might be committed by someone there are supervising - this was very similar to the contention in the latest Probation Inspection report namely that the service has become operationally defensive...can I directly ask our Senior Probation Managers what they propose to do about this vexed stalemate?
    I am asking what's the plan and what are you actually doing to turn this around? Please respond.

    1. I knew several good probation managers but they have all left. They were replaced by ‘experienced’ relatively recently qualified officers. The teams they carefully built up and nurtured disappeared overnight
      Bullying and harassment is rife. Perhaps consider being an officer abroad.

    2. Completely agree with newly qualified offficers being SPO’s I struggle to take a recommendation from SPO’s who have only been qualified for 12months. Some have completed one parrole report and are now judging mine.

  2. try senior prison managers,
    no point asking senior probation managers

    1. Senior prison managers are now senior probation managers!

  3. "Our system is not fit for purpose. It is inadequate in terms of its scope, it is inadequate in terms of its information technology, leadership, management systems and processes," he told MPs.
    ...John Reid talking about the Home office in 2006.


    1. The Ministry of Justice is looking to hire across Surrey and Kent within the prison and probation service. The Community Payback supervisor roles have a starting salary of £24,228, raising to over £30k and don’t need any prior experience.

      Previously known as Community Service, offenders on Community Payback complete jobs in the community as an alternative to a prison sentence. The available roles supervise those offenders who have been given Community Payback hours. This may include supervision of a wide range of projects - from restoring community facilities like sports halls and playgrounds to planting trees or graffiti removal.

  5. The other P in HMPPS isn't doing very well under civil service control.


    1. Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor said he is “very concerned” that recruits are interviewed virtually, via platforms like Zoom.

      The figures covered staff in England and Wales at HMPPS who resigned and left the service within a year of graduating from the training process, between September 2022 and September 2023.

      The numbers are equivalent to roughly five prisons’ worth of staff. Almost 500 guards gave up prison work before making it to six months.

      It costs the taxpayer on average £5,400 to put one recruit through prison officer training, meaning the government spent more than £4million on the staff identified in LBC research.

  6. Have I understood this news about HMPpS correctly Getafix?
    Big P (prisons) leaving in droves...
    Little p (probation) leaving in droves...

    1. I'm retiring (early) this week. Pension is awful, but my health more important. Chatting to mates with long service to probation, all are looking for an exit. Some of us are retiring, many early, many are getting jobs that may or may not lead on to better jobs, but the theme is that any job is a better job.

    2. What 'Getafix really finds shocking is the base assumption that working within HMPPS is a job that anyone can do. No experience required, a bit of online training and off you go. People are more then individual units of productivity that can be shown a process as if they're on a production line, and everyone and everything will be wonderful.
      Clearly, with the HMPPS poor retention rate in both prison and probation not eveybody recruited is suitable for the job.
      It's not just about getting bums on seats. HMPPS needs to focus more on getting the right bums on the right seats.
      The "anyone will do" approach just doesn't work and is destructive.
      It's about quality, not quantity.


  7. Community Payback supervisor roles have a starting salary of £24, words

    1. “don’t need any prior experience.”
      “No degree, no problem”

      Actually they do.need prior experience. Taking on people with no experience or qualifications isn’t really working. No wonder they’re all falling apart and leaving within 6 months. Reducing entry levels to get more people through the door just means you get more of the wrong people. Working in probation and prisons with serious offenders isn’t the type of job you push onto people fresh out of 6th form, wanting to up their shifts working in Asda or to top up their John Lewis pension.

  8. Looks like the inspectorate are out inspecting. There are reports on the website. Interesting report on the criminal justice staffing crisis.

  9. Good luck 21:07, I retired three years early and really glad I did...if you can make it work financially (and do the maths) it's so much better to have a life and mental and physical health rather than the relentless attack and sheer grind of being a frontline Probation Officer

  10. Anyone having fun with the new early release scheme, more so when AP placements have already been agreed? It's causing a great deal of stress in my area.

  11. I took early retirement last summer after 3 months shy of 41 years as a probation officer, with just over 2 years to go prior to my state pension date. It was not an easy decision to make but I had begun to wish my life away until my state retirement date, due to the ridiculous hours I was working to keep up with the demands of the job. Staffing levels were at an all time low and I could see no end in sight regarding reasonable staffing levels being reached such that I would be able to undertake the job within 37 hours per week.

    1. There are so many things that could have been put in place to stem the tide of departing experienced staff, but tragically, the focus has been on recruiting lambs to the slaughter and bullying as many of them as possible into the machine. That isn't going well, even on their terms I think

    2. Well done, 15:23. They really missed a trick, messed up this one. There was a thin line of experienced staff, who might have hung on in, if the offer to them had been tailored. Instead, the relentless nihilism just wore us down, and inevitably, out

    3. “the focus has been on recruiting lambs to the slaughter and bullying as many of them as possible into the machine”

      The shocking thing I see is these “experienced probation officers” bullying these new staff instead of helping them develop. The pension trap means so many are past their best before dates and shouldn’t be doing this job. Most of the good ones left years ago or escaped to management. We’ve very few decent probation officers left to learn from.

  12. @18.30. I completely agree. They did nothing in my area to stop the haemorrhage of experienced PSO's and PO's and i was cross and helpless at the same time as i watched experienced staff leave, but moreover, i felt utterly disrespected. I had repeatedly asked for a role assisting and supporting pquips and less experienced staff with my 23 years experience because they were coming to me anyway. The SPO was spineless and shortsighted and the HofA more interested in competitve nonsense with another team as to who could be better and score points. No idea and tone deaf as to what was going on under her watch with staff sickness and low morale so i left altogether. Now, i am so much happier working remotely for a wonder ful team elsewhere in the uk who appreciate me and what i bring as much as i appreciate them. Happy days.

    1. “I had repeatedly asked for a role assisting and supporting pquips and less experienced staff with my 23 years experience”

      To be fair this sounds entitled. I understand where you’re coming from but you could have applied from a job that involves developing staff like everyone else has too. Maybe you applied and didn’t get the job. One of the worse things about probation is the way they sometimes hand out jobs to their friends.

      It’s PQiP not Pquip.

    2. “Now, i am so much happier working remotely for a wonder ful team elsewhere in the uk who appreciate me and what i bring as much as i appreciate them.”

      Fully remote workers are one of the other worst things in probation. Sitting at home doing the easy work while the rest of us slog it out at the coal face. In my office we’re not allowed to be fully remote but agency probation officers are allowed. How is that fair?

    3. Trainee probation officer programme (PQiP)

      To become a probation officer you will need to complete the trainee probation officer programme, also known as the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP).

  13. VLOs are fully remote


    1. "The Private Members’ Bill passed its second reading in Parliament today (Friday 23 February), after the Government signalled its support.... The change will mean all offenders and youth criminals will have to notify their probation officer about any name changes, online aliases or changes to contact details... Offenders who refuse to comply could be taken back to court facing a tougher sentence, including possible prison time."

      Prisons and Probation Minister, Edward Argar, said "Deceitful offenders should never be able to hide from justice and any offender that tries to do this will be punished. Our number one priority is public protection so it is vital that our probation officers have all the information they need to keep a watchful eye on offenders – whether that be online or in real life."

      It was such a priority that there were 5 MPs in the chamber while Ruth Jones read her private member's bill.

      Good luck with the paperwork & the additional burden of responsibility... and the further SFOs you'll no doubt be dumped with.

    2. Also another opportunity for hmpps to promote their political message & repeat the tired old lies:

      "These changes will strengthen the Probation Service’s ability to robustly supervise offenders in the community and keep the public safe. Funding for the Probation Service has been increased by an additional £155 million a year since 2020/21 to recruit record levels of staff and reduce caseloads. The number of Probation staff in post has increased by 17% since June 2021."

  15. This won't shock readers although there are many holding a candle for the old way things worked around probation. When they were allowed even supported by the union to integrate to civil service then went all out independent terms and conditions of service. What that means is we have new authority over our daily function and pre ious choices evaporated with the previous employers . We have no employment terms or policies to protect or to negotiate we are employee numbers so when we appreciate this will also know that we have no chance of returning to those old ways . Good luck though.

  16. If things don’t change then we are destined to repeat high levels of stress, burnout,early departure of the current crop of recruits so the cycle continues……

  17. The training is rubbish Mickey Mouse not at proper universities and on line attracting third rate criminology graduates that’s why probation is rubbish it’s embarrassing

    1. Graduates? Hahaha. You don’t need to be a graduate !!

      To be eligible for the PQiP programme, you need to have a level 3 qualification (or higher). This is equivalent to qualifications like:

      A level
      level 3 NVQ


    3. Leeds probation officer jailed for three years for smuggling drugs and phones into prison

      Alice Graham was told she was "naive" after being persuaded by a prisoner to sneak a Lucozade bottle full of contraband into HMP Wealstun.

      Sentencing her at Leeds Crown Court this afternoon, Judge Kate Rayfield said: "He [the prisoner] was far more experienced in the criminal justice system than you. The relationship crossed acceptable professional boundaries. You abused the trusted position as a probation officer."

      Graham, 28, "became close" with the prisoner having spent just a few months in the job. Giving evidence in court today, she said that the prisoner had been "very, very engaging" and had "opened up", but conceded it was a "ruse".

      She also said never received a penny "and never intended to". She was caught when security conducted random searches at the category C jail, HMP Wealstun in Wetherby, in May 2021.

      Graham, of Cardigan Road, Headingley only qualified in the role in March 2020 and was given a "caseload of prisoners", prosecutor Jonathan Sharp told the court.

      Among them was one prisoner whom she later claimed she felt sorry for, and he was "keen" to stay in touch after his release.

      He was due to be released to a bail hostel in Scunthorpe, and Graham was later found to have conducted internet searches for hotels nearby, but she maintained it was on behalf of the prisoner's girlfriend, which was accepted by the Crown.

      Graham also had a conversation with a colleague about relationships with prisoners and rumours began circulating. The prisoner then asked her to bring in the list of items in an empty bottle for him, including a 32gb memory stick, eight SIM cards, three mobile phones with chargers, two syringes, steroids, testosterone, tobacco, cigarette papers, spice, ketamine, cocaine, cannabis and MDMA pills.

      She was supplied with an address to collect the items and drugs where they were handed over to her. The value was estimated to be between £6,415 and £6,695.

      On May 26, 2021, she travelled to HMP Wealstun with the packed Lucozade bottle in her jacket pocket. But she began to panic when told she needed to remove her coat and be searched at the entrance. She produced the bottle and was arrested.

      The Crown said there was no hint of pressure or manipulation during recorded conversations of the pair. She was also trained to spot tell-tale signs and raise the alarm if she felt under pressure from manipulative prisoners, which she failed to do.

      She admitted charges of conveying prohibited articles into a prison. Mitigating on her behalf, Matthew Harding said: "She was manipulated to some degree by the prisoner. It became more and more serious and she became more and more out of her depth.

      "She maintains it was not a commercial enterprise for her part. If there was a chain, there was no influence on it."

      He said that despite losing her job with the Probation Service, she was back in employment within days.

  18. Seen the new HMIP report for Brighton and East Sussex? Leadership rated good whilst frontline staff thrown under the bus... again.

    1. Brighton and East Sussex PDU rated as ‘Requires improvement’

      Brighton and East Sussex Probation Delivery Unit (PDU) has received an overall rating of ‘Requires improvement’ following an inspection by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation.

      The inspection revealed strong leadership, with committed staff and managers, however, the management of cases was largely insufficient in terms of the quality of work being delivered.

      Sue McAllister, Interim Chief Inspector of Probation, said: “The PDU has a stable leadership team, who are creative, implementing the delivery plan and addressing challenges with the culture locally.

      “They have adopted innovative ways of working with Violence and Exploitation Units, specifically working with young adults across the PDU, and also a Short Sentence Function supporting the release of people on probation from custody.

      “Despite the innovation seen, however, the management of risk in cases inspected across all teams within the PDU, was below expectations overall.”

      While the inspection saw a middle manager team of Senior Probation Officers (SPOs) who were approachable and visible, the management oversight of cases was not sufficient.

      Probation practitioners within the PDU consisted of a large proportion of inexperienced and recently recruited officers; and national training programmes have not addressed all learning needs to ensure practitioners have the necessary skills for this complex area of work. As such, the demand on middle managers to provide additional support, against a backdrop of an already significant workload was unachievable.

      Sue McAllister added: “There was a lack of services to reduce the risk of harm posed by individuals and interventions were not being implemented and delivered that resulted in any tangible reduction in the risk of further offending or serious harm.”

      As a result of the inspection findings, a number of recommendations were made, including a focus on the development of practice to identify, analyse and respond to risk of harm, along with improved implementation and delivery of sentence plans to support the robust management of cases.

    2. "The inspection revealed strong leadership, with committed staff and managers, however, the management of cases was largely insufficient in terms of the quality of work being delivered."


      What the fuck is it with the inspectorate? glenys, russel & now sue are all in thrall to management bollockspeak, invariably praising stong leaders & shafting those who have way too much work thrust upon them, mostly without adequate resources, support or training but with unrealistic expectations in a hostile environment.

      It seems the shared language of bullies wins through, the blinding bullshit is a smokescreen, managerialism obfuscates the reality & facilitates mass dumping on staff.

      IF these managers *were* so strong & excellent then the workforce & service as a whole wouldn't be in such a parlous state.

      They are incompetent managers ergo the workforce & organisation is in a state of collapse.

    3. If that is what they found. That is what they found.

    4. The inspection report for West Sussex that seems to have been published the same day concluded the exact opposite for leadership! It’s there. Inadequate. So the logic of 11.38 makes no sense. Facts First!

    5. I thought it pretty unusual to see NAPO giving an interview on a Sunday morning on the 7am Sky news.
      However, if the figure Ian Lawrence quoted of only 400 prison beds available nationwide, and leaked documents are correct about extending the early release scheme, then the number being supervised by probation is likely to grow both significantly and vert quickly over the next few months.


    6. Prisoners early release scheme extended indefinitely, leaked documents show

      Guidance to prisons obtained by Sky News reveals the scheme has now been "activated for an undefined period" which could allow more people found guilty of domestic abuse related crimes, among others, to be released early.

      A scheme to allow prisoners to be released early because of a lack of space has been extended indefinitely, Sky News can reveal.

      Ministers have also expanded the number of jails letting out prisoners before the end of their sentence, according to leaked documents.

      Originally, the early release scheme - known as the End of Custody Supervised Licence (ECSL) - applied to 21 jails, but has since been "updated" to apply in others.

      The scheme, outlined in October, allowed prisoners to be released up to 18 days before the end of their sentence to reduce an "acute and exceptional demand" on prison places.

      Guidance to prisons obtained by Sky News reveals the scheme has now been "activated for an undefined period".

      Officials insist this does not mean the scheme is permanent but have been unable to supply a date of when the ECSL will end.

      They deny this marks a fixed alteration to the way they will manage prisons in the future.

      The changes could allow more people found guilty of domestic abuse related crimes, among others, to be released early.

      Those guilty of more serious offences, serving sentences of more than four years, are not eligible for early release.

      When introduced by the government, ministers stressed the ECSL was "temporary".

      But leaked documents of government guidance sent to prison and probation staff now says their scheme has been "revised".

      An "urgent contingency" scheme which is "now activated for an undefined period" has been "updated to facilitate/ support activation in new prisons", the guidance says.

      Senior staff have been given escalation criteria to consider blocking inmates from early release. But the documents stress escalation should only be in exceptional circumstances.

      The documents say: "As a general principle ECSL is an urgent contingency scheme to create essential prison capacity and, therefore, it is critical that it operates quickly to generate the required releases. Escalations to Capacity Gold to consider a delayed release should be exceptional."

      The change has caused anxiety in the prison and probation service, prompting fears that some prisoners may be released with sped up risk management processes or wrongly released early.

      A source close to the scheme told Sky News: "The biggest practitioner concern is that it's front-loading a load more work onto practitioners who are already massively over capacity.

      "The problem with that is that's when things get missed or things aren't given the attention they need."

    7. An early release scheme was used under a Labour government in 2007. The party is now calling for the government to be transparent about the terms this time around.

      "This is extraordinarily damning - the Conservative government cannot continue to extend and expand indefinitely what is supposed to be a temporary scheme with zero transparency," Shabana Mahmood, the shadow justice secretary, told Sky News.

      "It is not a surprise to me given the scale of the government's prison crisis that they have extended this scheme, but at the very least - they should acknowledge the public have a right to know about the details of this scheme, and parliament has a right to know."

      But there are serious concerns about overcrowding in prisons, and some welcome the need for this scheme.

      As of figures published on Friday, 87,973 people are currently behind bars in England and Wales.

      The number of people that can be held in "safe and decent accommodation" in prison, known as the "certified normal accommodation", or "uncrowded capacity" is considered by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to be 79,507.

      That means the current overall system is at 110.6% capacity, or overcrowded.

    8. I was surprised to see the general secretary too getafix. I was only disappointed at his useless lack of energy for getting the consequences to probation across. He just messed it up as usual. You need to represent us the membership who pay your salary mate. You should have the release of risk is fire on staff well being. The risk was obvious not a clever point. The flow into community of early release will need monitoring and offender management staffing. There needs to be radical money to help secure accomodations . Just pathetic sound biting ego than do the fuc%ing job your paid for . He is useless.

    9. I agree. He had the perfect opportunity to explain that the previous early release scheme in 2007 didn't see those being released being channeled into a 12mth probation supervision period. They were released with no supervision requirement. Huge difference as TR added 40,000 short sentence prisoners to probation supervision.
      I tried to find this mornings interview on line, but stumbled on the following from 9 days ago.
      I found it quite painful to listen to. It's almost as if Ian Lawrence has been summond by MPs to defend why his department is doing so poorly.


    10. He can’t explain what he doesn’t understand

  19. Remember: it's not your workload that's a problem, but how you manage it.

    1. it is what it is
      we are where we are
      they found what they found
      make the best of what's in front of you
      look at the fluffy clouds
      rainbows & unicorns

    2. No, the problem is how you’re expected to manage it.

  20. Lol, newly promoted NQO manager by any chance?

  21. Not been here for a while but same old same old. Napo bashing. Attacking the GS, managers. So much anger. Take responsibility for your situation and get up the chain if you can do better. A lot of comments on how to do the top jobs when few have probably never done that job before. Well done to the GS getting up on his day off to represent us to the media. That’s no easy ask. Most people wouldn’t do it.

    1. * "same old same old" because NOTHING has changed for the better

      * same shit managers
      * same shit hmpps
      * same shit napo

      "* get up the chain" - unlikely unless you're part of the problem & thus welcomed into the bosom of incompetents (they know how to keep themselves safe)

      * spend plenty of my own time trying to keep records up to date on a massively inflated caseload, so fuck you & your "most people wouldn't do it" jibe.

      * people have every right to be angry at the way they are treated & how the service has been decimated.

    2. Hi Ian.

      Napo’s too invisible to be bashed. If it wasn’t invisible it’d be pressing the issues “up the chain”.

      I doubt Napo knows what the issues are. Take the early release scheme. How difficult is it for Napo to say ‘the scheme is putting extreme pressure on probation officers to unexpectedly prepare prisoners that have committed all sorts of crimes for release 18 days early and sometimes with less than 24 hours notice. All the responsibility has been pushed onto probation officers and if it goes wrong we’re blamed. This is more difficult in the abundance of probation offices 30%-70% understaffed because of bad pay, poor conditions and managers without a clue. The “situation” Napo and the other rubbish probation failed to address’.

      You didn’t say any of that but at least you got up to bleat rubbish and represent yourself in the media. You’re right, most credible people wouldn’t do what YOU do.

      I’m glad it’s going well for you in your “top job” as General Secretary.

      Bye Ian.


  23. The DWP should just come out with it and be honest that they hate poor people. Its fucking disgraceful.