Wednesday 27 March 2024

A Probation Manifesto

I note the Probation Institute is 10 years old and has published a shopping list of what is required from any new in-coming government " for Probation to return to a robust state."  Lets hope the politicians are listening:- 

A few thoughts on ten years of the Probation Institute

At a time when both prison remands and prison sentences are increasing for a high number of people who have committed non-violent offences, it is imperative that the important contribution that probation can make to the lives of people who have offended is properly recognised and resourced. Community sentences under the auspices of the Probation Service do work! Over the years, the probation service has supported thousands of people. The Probation Institute has a significant role in both championing and supporting probation practice through its professional discussions, contributions to training, and generally keeping the flag flying for all things probation.

Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe

I joined the Board of Directors in 2015 a year after it was established. Transforming Rehabilitation had just happened amid confusion, fear and considerable outright opposition. The Probation Managers Association morphed into the Probation Institute seeing itself as a continuation of the employers organisation and operating a voluntary Professional Register.

Twenty two new Community Rehabilitation Companies were formed. Each bidding for the low to medium work of the former Probation Trusts. The National Probation Service was formed to manage high risk cases. Staff were spilt between the two new organisational structures almost arbitrarily.

It's all history now of course. The rapid but nonetheless slow motion failure of the CRCs as private companies - a completely inappropriate model for the management of people with complex needs. The robust interventions of Dame Glenys Stacey catalogued the inadequacy of the new arrangements. The privatisation experiment ended. It was no surprise that our voluntary professional register struggled in the TR years!

A note regarding CRCs however - which in a few particular instances produced pockets of innovation and lateral thinking that was fresh air - I'm thinking of developing people with lived experience as mentors and moving reporting centres into the community.

In 2016 guided by Professor Paul Senior, a small group of the Directors reviewed the structure of the Probation Institute and successfully proposed that it should focus on the professional development of probation practitioners and wider professionals working in rehabilitation. This was a major shift and undoubtedly has proved to be the right decision. The voluntary register closed, and we committed our energy to professional development, offering events and publications focussing on evidence based research, principles of practice and sharing information in accessible modes. I became Acting Chief Executive and subsequently Chief Executive.

In June 2019 Paul Senior died after a long illness. He has been greatly missed, and very often remembered.

Nick Smart, Mary Anne McFarlane and currently Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe have continued Paul's position as Chair of the Board of Directors, becoming a Board of Trustees in April 2022 when the Probation Institute became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

During the COVID era the Probation Institute became almost completely virtual and we are grateful to Richard Rowley who has very effectively built up our website and social media platforms. Since 2019 the Probation Quarterly has further developed as a recognised source of writing on professional matters particularly by practitioners and academics on a wide and important range of topics in the field of rehabilitation. Anne Worrall and Jake Phillips have successively and very successfully edited the Probation Quarterly (PQ) supported by an editorial board. Issue 31 of PQ is published in the week of our tenth anniversary.

Since 2014 the catalogue of significant publications from the Probation institute has continuously grown. Our catalogue includes the only Code of Ethics in the field, thirteen Position Papers including Court Work, Remote Working and Race Equality, and Research Reports, including significant joint work on veterans in the justice system. We regularly hold online Research Events and Trainees Events. The Sir Graham Smith Research Award has produced a suite of excellent practice based research reports which we have launched and published. Our responses to government consultations, developed increasingly with our Fellows, are published and shared widely. We work with a range of organisation including the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Centre for Justice Innovation, Napo, and the Magistrates Association. We welcome the support of a number of universities in the field who work collaboratively with us.

In recent conversations with politicians we have been asked what needs to happen for Probation to return to a robust state. This is what we are saying;
  • Independent , external Professional Recognition and Regulation is now essential
  • A complete and independent review of the organisational purpose and location of Probation is necessary, being sensitive to the importance of stability on the ground but looking at devolution and models such as Youth Justice - for example should we put desistance at the centre of the purpose in the way that prevention is at the heart of youth justice?
  • The Probation Service needs to be taken out of the Civil Service
  • Diversity must be understood and valued; respect for difference never taken for granted
  • The voluntary sector needs to be trusted and better resourced to support the statutory responsibilities; access to funding needs to be much easier for small voluntary organisations
  • Sentencers must give more time for the completion of thorough Probation Pre Sentence Reports to help to reduce risk, building on the pilots
  • The presumption against under 12 month sentences must be enforced
  • The relationship between sentencers and the Probation Service must be rebuilt as an effective trusting partnership
  • People with lived experience must be valued and recruited into the service
We have the prospect of a Labour Government within the year of our anniversary. Over the years Labour Governments introduced Parole, the legislation for Community Service and the Youth Justice Board. We should seek brave and ambitious decisions for Probation and the wider field of rehabilitation from an incoming Labour Government. The Probation Institute is ambitious for the Probation Service to be the best that it can be.

We are a membership organisation open to anyone who wants to support professional development for probation and rehabilitation practice. We do not receive any government funding and we rely on our membership income. Please join here.

Helen Schofield
Chief Executive

Thursday 21 March 2024

Another Milestone

Later today this blog will hit yet another milestone as the counter inexorably tips us over another million hits, taking us to 9 million since it all started on the sofa with a a laptop and cup of tea some 14 years ago. Thankyou all for your interest and support and I cannot think of a better way of marking the occasion than the following reproduced from the latest bumper edition of Probation Quarterly from the Probation Institute:-

A Conversation on Values and Principles in Probation

John Deering 
Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Criminology University of South Wales

Martina Feilzer 
Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Bangor University

Su McConnel 
Vice Chair, Napo

Ella Rabaiotti 
Lecturer in Criminology, Swansea University


The following conversation took place as part of the work of the Probation Development Group at the Welsh Centre for Crime and Social Justice (Deering et al., 2023). We reflect on the impact of policy and organisational changes on staff in probation, focusing on their values and principles regarding probation work. In particular, changes within probation following the Transforming Rehabilitation policy (see Deering & Feilzer, 2015) are considered. Su and Ella both left probation as a result of this policy. Su later rejoined and Ella has moved into academia. Traditional values and principles in probation based on its originating ethos of ‘advise, assist, and befriend’ are thought to have come under significant pressures over the past few decades as part of numerous reforms to probation structures, changes in its overarching purpose, departures from its traditional social work training, and a dramatic staff turnover and change in staff composition. 

Reflecting on values and principles 

Martina: [Transforming Rehabilitation - TR] was quite tragic for the service, because a lot of people who'd been in probation for a long time, just left. That loss of experience was really quite marked. 

Su: I still feel it now. There's lots of young people [in the service now], very few old lifers like me. That loss of experience was huge and the oral history of the service before TR is fading fast. 

Ella: I was just thinking about people joining the previous probation service and thinking of those people that are now joining into the Civil Service…I wonder if there's a difference between the values and principles of these groups regarding joining probation. Are civil service probation values something different?

Su: I think they're different. Previously I think people joined with the same loose set of values that I had in 1986, although without thinking it through very much: ‘do good, mend people’. I worked in community service when I started, and the chief administrator of the service I worked for criticised me and my lot. He said I can't tell you apart from your clientele, you all look the same. You all drive dodgy cars, and you dress badly, and we took this as an absolute badge of honour: that we were so on side with our clientele. I sense an ‘us and them’ now, a much stronger sense of there being a staff group who do something to another person. 

The new mantra of ‘assess, protect and change' are all things that you do to people. So we assess, 'we're going to do this to you. We are going to protect everyone else from you because we're deeply worried and scared of you and perceive you as a threat. And we're going to change you.’ I think that's sort of absorbed somehow into the way people approach the work.

John: The new mantra was at least a change from the previous 20 years which was not about even imagining that you could change people, and that assessment was purely a narrow assessment of risk. We’re ‘just going to manage you.’ 

This is not just a job. You've got to enjoy it in some basic ways that are about how you view the world and how you treat people. I asked the trainees in 2010 - the government is telling you that probation is about punishing people and protecting the public. So why did you join? Nobody said I'm here to punish people. And that remained consistent throughout their training (Deering, 2010). But it's interesting to hear you say now that since it's become a civil service that maybe it's different?

Martina: It would be interesting, but I wonder whether it makes a difference? Listening to our students who express an interest in probation, they are saying ‘I'm doing this because I care about people, I care about the community I live in’. [But they] have no idea what they’re walking into as a profession, and people should be quite open about that. They've got certain ideas about the job, but then join and people tell you what to do, and that influences what you think about the job and how you do it. I still think we underestimate the amount of time that is spent in front of the computer trying to fill in a form and fighting with that and how all that can influence your practice?

Su: We keep using the word profession. One of the definitions of a profession is the thing that you do for life, if you're a lawyer, or a surgeon, or whatever that's something you do for your working life, and that is not the case anymore in probation. You get your long service medal at 5 years these days, and a huge round of applause. So that is a challenge in itself.

Ella: Often professions will have some sort of values framework. In probation ethics, principles and values have been quite changeable and wishy-washy over the years without a clear framework. I know that Napo had clear views on this and the Probation Institute has produced a list of values for practice and of course lots has been done in Europe. How important is it to have these things? I don't think people look at organisational buzzwords and fundamentally change [their values]. They might change elements of practice due to different strategies and policies, but do they change their deep rooted values? I know we've tried to state some of these things within our publication. Do you think it is important to put a marker in the sand? Say, well, this is the sort of probation that we want with these sorts of values.

John: I suppose it's about what you think probation is about. In my view, if it's not about trying to help people change and improve their lives, then there's no point to it. You could just fine all the people who don't go to prison or give them hours of unpaid work. But if you believe that things can change for people, then you have to think that you can work with people, that you can be empathic and believe in their ability to change.

Martina: In our survey (Deering & Feilzer, 2015), respondents referred to public sector values and a core belief that people can change. And that the role of the probation officer is to assist in that change. However, in research since I've noticed that there isn't a lot of ‘profession for life’ anymore, and in probation you seem to have a criminal justice professional, where people move between different services, from police to probation and back again, including to the private and charitable sectors. However, the ethos of these sectors are very different. You can see some similarities between the public and charitable sectors, but some people move between both the private and public sectors and I don't think we have a full grasp of those individuals yet in terms of their values.

Su: I think we're offering what we think, a view of what values and ethics of a probation service should be. People make individual decisions based on their own skills and understanding all the time with reference to their training and to a set of values and ethics. So you need to have a set of values and ethics to refer to, and the profession can resist calls to work in ways that conflict with its agreed values and ethics.

Ella: Agreed, but there is something about the interpretation of the words, isn't there? Earlier we talked about ‘assess, protect and change’, and it being potentially negative where we do the change to the people, we make them change - or positive if we enable and support them to change. How does this relate to the training, the development, the support of practitioners? So they can discuss and consider what some of these things mean and how they can be interpreted.

Martina: The point Su was making is important. It's about the organisation as much as the individuals within it. However, the Civil Service has no history or culture as a probation organisation, and neither does being part of HMPPS promote a probation-specific ethos. When we say ‘challenge the individual’, we also need to say ‘challenge the organisation’ to support individuals to deliver some of this work.

Ella: It almost mirrors what we do with working with people on probation, isn't it? We challenge them as individuals. But we should be going back to the system that created the circumstances that put them in that place.

John: Ever since probation became a punishment, a sentence of the court in the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, governments have tried to change the ethics and values of the organisation. Government was saying probation was about punishment in the community. With the arrival of National Standards, the government set about trying to redefine the organisational culture: “We are an enforcement agency, it's who we are, it's what we do”. They knew how important it was in order to change the organisation.

Ella: That's when I started. But because I was working with the old guard, I guess, who would be like ‘forget about that’…This is how we do probation. There was a mixture of this conflicting policy, guidance and people, saying, this is what we are, and then other people go, ‘no, this is what we are.

John: Until the last 30 years 'advise, assist and befriend’ was a requirement for probation. It was all a bit vague, but it represented the values of the organisation that people within it were supposed to try and work towards, so in some sense you were able to hold them to account. I think we're quite right to argue that Probation needs to go back to an idea that it is working to engage people in a humanistic and empathic way, because we know what is potentially effective is based on those sorts of things. It's about having a proper relationship with somebody and professional work.

Su: When I first joined probation I used to laugh, if a week went by when I hadn't spent an hour discussing our values base in a meeting or other, it was a weird week. Sometimes it would go down a bit of a rabbit hole, but actually, values and ethics were talked about all the time. That social work reflective thing. It was just a naturally occurring feature in any staff meeting or conversation. 

So, if we were to persuade a probation service in Wales to adopt our set of values and ethics, we should probably suggest these are discussed at team meetings, or that should be very much part of the training.

Ella: Yes indeed, Su. Probation spearheaded anti-discriminatory practice, probation officers would bring these important issues up, and I think you might get back to that place where probation officers can lead on these important issues around respecting people as people first. That would be great for the future.

Martina: I think the point is that values and principles are only worth something, if people know how to use them in their day to day work, and can buy into them. It needs to be something that is real, and whether people agree with all of the bits it doesn't matter. That’s all part of the discussion. It must go both ways so that individuals don't feel that only they are monitored or held to account for their values, but also that they can hold the organisation to account. I've been mulling over how important it is that you have organisations that represent different views in the criminal justice system. So that opposition to a law enforcement punishment narrative exists, and that probation should hold that line. Does it sound wrong to be on the side of the person who has committed a crime? But it used to be that position, didn’t it? It’s about regaining that ground because the argument is that you will protect communities in the long run if you do that.

John: I think we've got to emphasise that this is not just a theoretical debate. It's about something that you need to make this organisation work in a certain way. So, it's absolutely integral. We need to tie it in with the evidence about effectiveness in practice and say these things are intertwined.

Su: Once we finish this conversation, I'm off to have a very final session with a woman on the very last day of 2 consecutive, suspended sentence orders, and she's been absolutely brilliant. So, we're just going to have tea and cakes, and that’ll be great. Keeps me going. The thing for me about the values and ethics is, it should make us very distinctly different from other organisations in the criminal justice system. We shouldn't be part of the prison system. Their job is to keep people in, and our absolute job is to keep them out.

Monday 18 March 2024

Fancy Being a Probation Officer? 4

Remember when initial allocation of a case was followed by a groan, then to be informed “they are in custody” - gave a sigh of relief and respite. However, under the ever-changing ECSL tectonic plates, release dates of prisoners now calculated in something akin to an FA Cup draw or ‘Wheel of Fortune’ format, rather than being something planned and embedded. The pressures and chaos this creates, along with an already substantial and sustained level of change, is leaving staff utterly bewildered. I am now of the opinion that if a custody case is allocated it will now be met with a groan.

As much as early release of prisoners will cause significant problems for probation, probation itself is part of the problem. There are many thousands in prison on recall, not because they have re-offended, but for non compliance. It's penal ping pong. Prisons release and probation recall. Prisons are full because there's too many routes into them. Is there really any need to have everyone leaving prison subjected to at least 12mths probation supervision?

With all this going on we’ve been told we must fill in weekly timesheets to explain our hours. Our SPO then told us from Monday she’s coming into the office 5 days a week “to model it to you all”. Not sure what’s going to be modelled. This SPO sits in her office with the door closed firing off emails and gossiping to her cronies all day. Ask her about a case she’s like a cat caught in the headlights.

If we are all due to be called back into the office five days a week, watch the sickness rates increase exponentially! Flexible working prior to Covid was a joke and you needed a letter from your mam and the local priest to be granted a work from home day. We also do not have the infrastructure for it. They have changed most if not all offices to only hold 60% of the work force in the buildings.

I’ve just received a call from my SPO. They are releasing a very high risk case on 2nd April and apparently there’s lot more of them. POP is on a standard recall but his sentence is less that 12 months custody so those cases are all being altered to fixed term recalls and being released, regardless of risk or MAPPA. Ive asked if this was national and he said he was but this is the first I’ve heard about it. I’ve been told not to share this with my colleagues because the legislation is not yet finalised. They also don’t want all staff seeing the list of names on there and they said this is because it’s confidential data but they don’t normally have a problem when we can see each others POP’s names on PP Dashboard, daily performance reports or when we need to cover another PP’s case on delius. Maybe they don’t want my colleagues to see the list for other reasons.

"I’ve been told not to share this with my colleagues because the legislation is not yet finalised. They also don’t want all staff seeing the list of names on there and they said this is because it’s confidential". This is an absolute shitshow. Back awhile the term Omnishambles was coined. This is on a whole new level: Omnishambles on Amphet. Ministry: doing what exactly? Doubling down on failed strategy. Ministers presumably hiding under their temporary desks,
Civil Service: doubling down on failed strategy and waiting for eviction of Ministers, so they can advise the New Boss to be Just Like the Old Boss.
Professional Leadership 1 HMPPS: that leader is a prisons leader. Number one priority get some space in the prisons, probation - whatever that is - will have to cope
Professional Leadership 2 Probation: (where is the Chief?) No idea
Local Management: Fractured coms, headless chickens, rabbits in headlights
Frontline: not enough staff, and being churned out of training into the frontline on a wing and a prayer. the trenches, at all levels actually, good decent people are trying to get the best done for people, living and breathing human beings who should be entitled to a competent service. In every place, a knackered stressed person coming out of prison is faced with a knackered stressed person in a probation office and neither of them have much options. Omnishambles squared.

I am more than qualified for PQiP - at level 7 already - but I won't make that transition from PSO because of what I read about from current NQO's and RQO's, who criticise the excessive caseload, stress that creates due to the extra free time put in to meet deadlines - and there is the fear of SFO's which is more likely to come from a PO caseload than a PSO's. What is the point of working hours free of charge only to paid per hour the equivalent of a much less stressed specialist PSO?

The academic side of the PQIP is somewhat easier now the 8,000 word dissertation requirement has been removed. Caseloads are not in the mid-20s/30s before qualifying because of the high profile tragic and horrific cases that have caused Probation to reflect rather than the daft conceit of piling work on as a trainee in preparation for the high caseload to come. This never tackles the caseload, but further puts the emphasis on the NQO/PQIP- this is a 'get out of jail free' card for Probation to continue to culturally emphasise that it's the NQO's fault of how they manage cases not the caseload itself. PQiPs don't have to do duty if they're doing a PAROM - when the kitchen sink was thrown at me when I did my training. But will they be prepared to undertake high risk on their own without co-working? 

Cases all start with proper work made in the courts or prisons with meaningful work to prepare them for community testing - not the attitude that most offenders have when they believe that when they leave prison that's the 'end of their sentence'. Much more has to be done at the Court or prison end of the system so as to make the COM's job just slightly less arduous. In addition, cases are often more or not a success if the allocation is made as well as it can be. This comes from risk literacy and making sure that an NQO doesn't have a case of abiding magnitude that they feel overwhelmed and this may turn into an SFO.

The ads for the job are basically lies. A lot of the trainees that join would make brilliant probation officers. But they’ve been lied to, they’re disillusioned, and they want a better working life. Nobody can blame them for that. They may lack life experience, but they don’t lack intelligence. They value themselves. The younger generation would rather walk out of a job that makes them unhappy, and find jobs that pay less, if it means they’re happy, and not burned out every moment of every day. I respect them for that. They’re being honest with themselves. They’re valuing their worth and their mental health.

Maybe it’s not the trainees that should be criticised, but the recruiters. Recruiters know how pressurised the job is. The high staff turnover is a clear indication of that. Recruiting for numbers doesn’t work. There needs to be a re-examination of the recruitment process. Having hundreds of people join only to have hundreds of people leave again is a waste of time and resources. All it does is add to the pressure the existing staff are already under. It’s an optical illusion so the powers-that-be can say they’re recruiting X number of people to help ease the pressure, when in reality they’re just making it worse, through being dishonest about the leave-rate. Criticise the right people, and not those who try.

I qualified 18 months ago and have never felt so undervalued in a job. My WMT is 175% and my anxiety is through the roof for fear of an SFO. I do not feel supported. I cannot manage risk when I do not have the time to spend with the people I manage. I'm ready to quit.

Friday 15 March 2024

On Training PO's

I deliver the training in a university and used to be a practice tutor assessor. I was surprised to be appointed as a Senior Lecturer causing resentment in the university amongst those who were jumping through hoops but money talks in privatised HE. I was glad to get out of probation as they are not good employers. 

None of the comments on here surprise me. Some of the students are very young and not life experienced at all. They are still at the living at home/partying and personal experimentation stage. They are good at doing online learning when they are up in time but find face to face interaction with colleagues and service users challenging and less fun than debating gender issues and dyeing their hair green. 

We hear many stories of unprofessional behaviour towards them but much is as a result of a lack of people skills or respect for expertise. They are often very young people who have led sheltered middle class lives. They feel very hurt when they are criticised for knowing little and lacking experience. Most are terrified of service users who they simply cannot relate to and appear to them gross.

They were attracted to probation because of watching true crime tv. The dirty messy reality of frontline work is for many simply overwhelming and they retreat into their computers for safety and try to shut out the realities of the real world. Perhaps they will come up to speed eventually if their weaknesses go unnoticed but as the staff to case ratio slowly decreases they will have nowhere to hide.

The news today about a new probation officer messing up will be seen as devastating as it throws an unwelcome spotlight on a serious problem well illustrated by other contributors. Most new qualified officers will be entirely out of depth with a case like that and not personally equipped to deal with the fall out. 

An experienced colleague may well have read the signs but these days staff are under so much pressure. There is no recovery time or time to reflect. No time for supportive debriefs and lessons learned. A very awful sort of job nowadays but someone has to do it. I wonder if it is not time for root and branch change?

Thursday 14 March 2024

Napo and Early Release Fiasco

Here we have Napo's take on it all, published yesterday:- 

ECSL - Napo's Position

The Ministerial announcements on Prison capacity are in the news regularly. From the outset we want to make it clear that Napo’s starting point for any discussion on prison overcrowding is that it is a tragedy.

Too often the focus is on one part of the unfolding crisis, but we believe it’s important to first acknowledge the sheer scale of what is happening. This is beyond even the terrible and degrading conditions individuals are imprisoned in while being denied the opportunity of rehabilitation, the impact on victims denied what they believed justice would be, as well as being placed at risk by this policy and the unbearable anxiety caused to the families of both prisoner and victim.

It's about something greater than the increased risks of physical violence to Prison staff or the levels of psychological harm caused to Probation staff pushed too far by the excessive workload they are subjected to by an employer that consistently fails us on even the most basic of their responsibilities – to not harm its workforce by their actions or inactions. And it’s also more than the evaporation of what little confidence members of the public must have in the criminal justice system, contributed to in no small part in this crisis as the reputational damage to the Probation and Prison Services that Politicians, through senior leaders in HMPPS inflict with each mis-step they take on this, as with so many other matters.

Time for a completely new approach to the problem

The crisis of prison overcrowding is one that’s been decades in the making, and for which previous Tory, Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition and Labour Governments all bear some level of responsibility. For too long, politicians have traded in simplistic arguments that misled the public, and not challenging the lies perpetrated by the media and have sought a quick fix to deeply complex problems. The failure of so many of the political class of one of the richest countries in the world over all this time to demonstrate sufficient courage and leadership to commit adequate resources to Probation and Prison Services over decade after decade has been truly shameful to witness.

Unfortunately, the most recent comments of the current Shadow Justice Secretary announcing an intention to attempt to ‘prison-build’ their way out of this abhorrent mess suggests that honest political leadership, evidence-based (or even reality-based) policymaking and a commitment to make generational changes for the good of the country aren’t seemingly going to be a feature of a likely incoming new Government, at least in terms of this policy.

Napo’s efforts to influence Early Release Schemes

The End of Custody Supervised Licence (ECSL) was introduced in October 2023. It has been apparent to us from the outset that the Government has chosen to prioritise the crisis of prison overcrowding over that of excessive Probation workloads. Nothing that has been done by HMPPS since that time has caused us to change our view. As it was a legislative change being driven forward by an elected Government our role has been limited to one of consultation rather than any form of negotiation with HMPPS. It is fair to reflect, and we’ve made these points clearly at every opportunity, that HMPPS have not consulted as often or in as sufficient detail as we would have expected. Through all this we’ve been informed and guided by the experiences of practitioners across a range of Probation work which is impacted by the ECSL scheme, and we want to take this opportunity to thank all the members who have raised this in their Branches or to Napo HQ for their contributions to this point. At the end of this message, we’ll say more on how we see this moving forward from this point.

Napo have been consistent in representing member’s interests and Probation’s identity by repeatedly raising concerns over the increased workload, assault on professional judgement and the obvious increased risks to the public, and individuals (including some of the most vulnerable in our society), that the ECSL scheme represents. We’ve done this in numerous face-to-face meetings with HMPPS senior leaders as well as written communications. Our view remains that in too many cases it is simply neither feasible or safe to bring forward many of the Risk Management Plans that will be in place – and will have been for some time – for the individuals involved at such short notice.

The problems around ECSL

Napo have set out a range of practical issues faced by you as practitioners when forced to do this which, by way of only a few illustrative examples, include: a lack of Approved Premises bed spaces, or other accommodation, available for the revised release date; an inability to rearrange substance misuse, health (especially mental health) and other appointments (e.g. state benefits) previously arranged for day of release; the increased likelihood that a supervising officer will be unavailable to conduct the post-release induction appointment due to other pre-existing work commitment on the revised release date; an inability to make alternative arrangements for transport between releasing prisons and the home area, meaning more risky modes of transport are required on the revised release date than would have been used otherwise. Napo have made clear the ultimate responsibility which HMPPS hold for this scheme, including the consequences that they obviously failed to anticipate, such as: where the demand for rapid action to release an individual increases the likelihood of HMPPS breaching the part of the Victim’s Code relating to pre-release notification of information to some victims.

Napo have also pressed HMPPS to produce evidence for the feasibility and safety of this policy while stressing our member’s opposition to it. For example, we’ve asked for data on the amounts of ECSL releases to each Region and Probation Delivery Unit or on the numbers of recalls, Serious Further Offences and deaths of people subject to ECSL as well as a range of information on applications for exemptions made by practitioners. HMPPS initially denied holding such data but have since claimed that what they might have is subject to a lengthy verification process which would mean that information would be released much later, potentially annually (i.e., October 2024). Napo understands this was in line with an earlier comment made by a Minister in Parliament. Very recently we have received information that at least some of this data has in fact been shared with senior regional leaders and we will be following this up urgently with HMPPS to request access to this, using data protection legislation if needed.

Media activity

In addition to the internal work Napo has undertaken, we’ve also sought to publicise the flawed ECSL scheme in the media, and it’s clear that over the last three weeks this has seen significantly increased interest. A number of interviews for various media outlets – television, print, radio and online – have been undertaken by Napo Officials to follow up on our earlier contacts with journalists where our position on this scheme, and our range of concerns, have been shared. While we cannot control the decisions of media outlets to then run these interviews, or publish articles, we’ve also been active on social media to stress our opposition to ECSL and the reasons for this.

In Parliament

Napo also work particularly closely with a cross-party group of politicians who form the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group (Justice Unions Parliamentary Group (@JusticeUnions) / X ( and we’d encourage members to view their work to see the results of this collaboration. Here is an example of some of the exchanges that took place this week: these following the Lord Chancellors Written Statement

In our close working with the JUPG, Napo can make significant contributions on how the Government is held to account in Parliament, putting forward issues for public debate on the criminal justice system and promoting the interests of members. As you would expect, we’ve been sharing our concerns about ECSL with the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group since October 2023 and our work with them has only increased as the scheme has been expanded.

Other developments around ‘early release’

In terms of other ‘early release’ matters, members can be assured that Napo have also made clear to HMPPS our concerns about the impact on both members as well as the public from the imminent introduction of an expansion to eligibility for the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) scheme and the increased use of Fixed Term Recalls for those people serving custodial sentences of less than 12 months. Following a similar approach as ECSL we’ve set out how these changes will negatively impact on practitioners and your ability to do your jobs effectively (providing examples of this to support our arguments); requested data such as forecasts and equality assessments of the proposals; and offered practical suggestions as to how the full force of this additional work on members could be mitigated, for instance by suspending ESCL for periods of time in those Regions where an increased number of people are being released on HDC.

Operation Protect

Napo also want to stress that the months long work we have been completing with HMPPS in relation to the joint union’s workload campaign – Operation Protect – should be about to produce the first results in terms of what HMPPS are referring to as a ‘Probation Reset’. Discussions remain ongoing and more information will follow from us very soon, but we want to make clear that, for us as well as our sister trade unions, this is only the beginning of the substantive workload relief we hope to see for workers in many roles across the Probation Service.

How members can help

As we continue our work on your behalf on ECSL, as well as the other ‘early release’ schemes, we continue to need your support and contributions to inform our response to HMPPS. For that reason, and to attempt to provide a single point of contact for any experiences you might wish to share, can members please contact your Link Officials or use the following email address if they want to share any of these with us as your trade union representatives

You may also want to make clear in the subject line of your email that this relates to ‘ECSL’, ‘HDC’ or Fixed Term Recall’ (or a combination of these). Members should share their specific experiences of these schemes, and how this has impacted on them and others, do not include the personal details, or identifiers, of any of those you are working with. We hope, after ensuring all are properly anonymised and cannot be traced to a particular individual or location, to use these experiences in discussions with the employer and others to better publicise the huge challenges faced by many of our members.

We need to stress that members must not, under any circumstances, breach the rules issued by the employer on data protection, confidentiality or information sharing.

Please look out for further news on the key issues being faced by our members. Meanwhile, thank you for taking the time to read this detailed commentary on our work so far on ECSL.   

Ian Lawrence          Ben Cockburn
General Secretary  Acting National Chair

13th March 2024



Thanks go to the reader for pointing me in the direction of this from Wales Online:-

The 'horrendous' reality of being a probation officer

'The pressure on staff is unbearable some days. Morale is horrendous at the moment. I don't know a single person here who works the 37.5 hours a week they're meant to'

A furious whistleblower says changes to the crisis-hit probation service will make the public less safe as well as "insulting" victims of crime. WalesOnline can reveal that offenders under suspended sentences and community orders will no longer need to see probation officers during the last third of their orders – the latest cutback to a service that for years has been stretched almost to the point of breaking.

Justice secretary Alex Chalk announced this week that some prisoners could be released up to two months early due to jail overcrowding in England and Wales but this will mean a heavier burden on the probation officers monitoring them in the community. In an attempt to reduce pressure on the chronically understaffed service a new policy was announced on Monday in an internal video meeting. Staff were told the UK Government had signed off on offenders in England and Wales no longer needing to see probation officers during the last third of their suspended sentences or community orders, which are up to three years long.

An experienced probation officer in south Wales told us: "This will outrage courts and victims of crime, especially domestic violence victims. They will feel even more let down by the system. People are placed on orders of certain lengths for a reason." He pointed out domestic violence offenders are meant to have two years of programme work. The new approach, he fears, will mean issues around drugs, mental health, and housing advocacy are not fully addressed. The government says the change will not affect "the most serious offenders" but the whistleblower told us that offenders labelled 'medium risk' – who are already supervised less – account for most of the serious offences committed while under an order.

The whistleblower works in a south Wales team that is little more than half the size it was in 2007. "The pressure on staff is unbearable some days," he said. "Morale is horrendous at the moment. I don't know a single person here who works the 37.5 hours a week they're meant to. Staff take their work home with them, they work on evenings and weekends. Until about 2012 you couldn't work with a sex offender until you had two years' experience. Now newly-qualified trainees are given sex offender cases."

The increased pressure has been accompanied by worse pay leading to "woeful" recruitment and retention problems. Recently our source learned that more than a third of staff in his team were looking for new jobs. He said: "In the past 15 years of wage freezes and below-inflation pay settlements staff have seen their pay devalued by over 25% in real terms. I didn’t have a pay rise for over 10 years. If someone can work in Aldi for £38,000 a year they are not going to train for a year to work with the most dangerous people in society for £32,000."

While under an order high-risk offenders tend to be seen by probation officers weekly, medium-risk offenders fortnightly, and low-risk offenders monthly. If they are involved in a "reportable incident" – very often domestic violence – the probation service would call the offender and decide whether the next face-to-face meeting should be brought forward. The whistleblower says it is unclear what will now happen in those circumstances when offenders are in the last third of their order.

When courts impose community orders and suspended sentences they often include a certain number of rehabilitation sessions. How will the new policy affect those sentences? "I think it's likely to mean those sessions are front-ended to the first two-thirds of the order, putting even more pressure on staff," said the whistleblower, adding that they already "regularly" find themselves terminating orders without all of the rehab sessions being completed. Offenders often miss appointments but if more than half of sessions have been carried out the order can be ended. The whistleblower fears the final-third policy will only add to the number of incomplete programmes.

According to figures from last year the probation service was 1,700 officers short of its target of 6,160. In 2014 many senior staff left after the then-justice secretary Chris Grayling's disastrous part-privatisation of the service. It was renationalised seven years later following a series of damning reports by parliamentary committees and watchdogs.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We recognise the pressures facing our hardworking probation staff which is why we are making changes to make sure they can continue to deliver high-quality supervision in the community. These measures, alongside our £155m investment in the Probation Service each year, will reduce caseloads and mean staff can maximise supervision of the most serious offenders."

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Fancy Being a Probation Officer? 3

As a prison crisis necessitates emergency early release of prisoners up to 60 days early, it rapidly turns into a probation crisis, thus making a terrible situation even worse:-

Tragedy and my condolences to the victims of these horrific crimes.... We should contrast the significant time and resources available to the Probation Inspectorate to produce this report with that of the frontline Probation Workers who have to deal with terrifyingly high caseloads with no time and little experience of how to do so.

I note that the HMIP report concerning this tragic SFO references the lack of experienced staff due to them leaving the Probation Service. I am one of them, having retired early after 3 months shy of 41 years as a probation officer (CQSW trained). Having given some months notice of my desire to retire early, I repeatedly raised with senior managers in the area in which I worked, that nothing was being done to retain staff. I left due to the impossibility of being able to work reasonable hours as an OMU PO.

On another point, I am aware that other posters have referenced more experienced probation officers being unwilling to offer support to trainees and less experienced probation officers. As an experienced probation officer, I did my level best to help others and to offer opportunities for learning but I was very aware that my own workload considerably reduced my capacity to assist less experienced staff and this was something that did not sit well with me as I previously supervised students as a practice teacher via their attendance on CQSW/Diploma in Social Work courses.

Interesting comments regarding APs. Where I worked, we were encouraged to spend as much time with the 'Residents' . But things changed. No longer were we to spend time with them, just observe via CCTV. The amount of useful 'Int' gathered over a coffee and smoke was more useful than any structured meeting, just glad I'm out of it all now.

APs are shockingly under resourced. The same number of Residential Workers in each AP regardless of whether it accommodates 10 or 40 residents. One manager, who is normally the only qualified officer in the building, but their brief is to manage the building and the staff. One part time admin staff for the whole AP!

APs are now part of a separate directorate so don't routinely get sent the comms that go to PDUs so miss out on what changes are taking place. APs are the forgotten section of a forgotten service. The new referral process is horrific, with many managers now having limited overview of who is sent to their AP. The focus is on filling beds rather than appropriate placements. Gone are the days where you'd leave a few days between one resident leaving, before placing someone else in that room, just in case accommodation isn't sourced in time and they need an extension.

More and more leaving APs homeless, shocking given that most referrals state they need an AP as the alternative is being released homeless or it will increase risk. Indeed, CRU will often allocate with a note to say the AP manager will need to reduce another residents stay in order to fit them in. We won't start on the leadership in the CRU but there is no support for AP staff there. The Early Release Scheme is placing more pressure throughout. APs are getting more and more emergency referrals, with no time to do pre-arrival work - the bedrock to a successful stay. APs are an invaluable intervention but are more and more being treated like B&Bs. But no one cares and no-one listens.

Lots of panic about in HMPPS right now. Early release scheme being increased from 18 to 35 days. Announcements also coming around not supervising PSS or those in the final 1/3 of their orders - to try and ease pressures.

You’d be lucky to find a genuine J-Cloth these days. It is a bit of a Cinderella service and convenient punch bag for vile Tory blamists. We used to complain about not being recognised or noticed but now we are front page news as if we actually have any control or influence over anyone these days. It is common to blame the unions for not doing enough but the Chief Probation Officer seems missing in action. Kim Thornton wotsit was MIA. Why wasn’t she doing the rounds explaining crushing workloads, the necessity of binging in young inexperienced staff because experienced staff won’t put up with the crap. Let’s ask what the heck she is doing first then ask whether the unions have also asked her to act. Don’t put it all on the unions. She needs to earn her title otherwise she is just another fat cat civil servant.

I'm unconvinced that the early release scheme will reduce the prison population. In fact it may have the reverse effect. They will fill any empty spaces with new prisoners, and there will be a significantly greater number on licence that will be subject to recall. I'm guessing that many that are released early will be from the 12mth and under cohort, and in my view, they are the very cohort that are most likely to get recalled.

The ECSL has reduced some of my colleagues to tears this week. It was already stressful and only getting 24-48 hours notice of release is a joke. Escalating to try and get gold command to look at it impossible. No duty of care given to individuals being released early with no accommodation and the only support being probation. Experienced staff will continue to leave while this is happening and ministers make decisions on a sector they have no experience or knowledge about. It’s going to end up with more overcrowding due to recalls and then the SFO’s. AP’s are at breaking point and there is so little accommodation that the early released will be street homeless or residing in unapproved addresses. This is not the service I came into and I really don’t know how long I will last with a caseload of over 150% and the added pressures of ECSL.

Probation relies on a fully functioning well resourced welfare state and fully functioning local authorities with local services to be effective. Probation cannot compensate for years of neglect and lack of services. Levelling up was a huge con job perpetrated against the north. The Red Wall was feared by the Tories with its erosion the Tories have been able to get a foothold and attack Labour strongholds. This will mean less investment not more.

High risk cases are already being released under ECSL. They have from the start. Soon all non-high risk recalls will be released after 14 days. Probation officers expected to arrange housing, drug service, mental health support at short notice and blamed when they can’t. It’s a joke.

Very vulnerable young person released homeless on ESCL. We tried to plead with the powers that homelessness would increase his vulnerability in relation to required health medication. The powers that be released him anyway. Tearful and scared he wandered to his licence induction. A reception member took pity and gave him a tent and a sleeping bag. Reception member received a verbal warning after the local council complained to senior management about ‘how that made the local town centre look’. Suffice to say, his sleeping bag and tent were removed and the whole PDU were given strict instructions not to help homeless people in this way.

Here we go again. Another recall yesterday as another high risk had successfully completed 8 weeks in an AP. The problem was there’s no move on accommodation that would support the 4 months he had left on HDC. We congratulated him by allowing the HDC to recall him. An awful way to treat a human life. We do try to negotiate with the HDC escalations team as to why we try and avoid early releases for this reason but it falls on deaf ears. I agree we should not keep them longer in custody than absolutely necessary but we desperately need move on accommodation, mental health support and adult social care. Housing stock is barely existent. MH and ASC have been all but decimated. We simply don’t have what we need to support the reintegration of people in society, so we send our successful clients back to prison instead. We all cry at night.

If staff are crying at night, they should visit their GP for support ASAP instead of trying to soldier on. Do not destroy your mental health by attempting to function in a system which is broken.

Interesting comments about ‘what happens to caseloads when officers are off sick’. One of the other offices in my PDU is short staffed due to a lot of them being off sick with burnout. They’ve decided the SPO over there should manage the cases himself. I think he has about 200 of them now but it looks like he is still managing what’s left of his team as well. They send ISP’s to our office to complete for him. There’s still a lot more cases just dangling in the names of officers who are off long term.

There are many young people and young women who have life experiences. When I joined probation I had been in detention centres, in gangs. I failed at school and had been on the streets for a long time. I knew what it was like to have nothing and to fend for myself. I work many dead end jobs, put myself through university and later joined probation.

The difference back then was the variety of life experiences and personalities when I joined. This included younger and older people who did and did not have a clue. Length of service rarely equated to mean good probation officer. Burnout was a thing back then too. Sometimes the longer serving the probation officer the more they were best avoided. The exception were the ones that went above and beyond for everyone. The ones we all learned from.

Probation offices could be just as toxic and discriminating as when I joined, but everywhere I worked we were a team. Over the years the pressure of the lack of staffing and resources has stripped away staff resilience and camaraderie. Trainees are expected to learn from managers who never properly learnt to be probation officers and from ‘elders’ who are too fed up or busy to be probation officers. This won’t change until probation offices cease being run on shoestring budgets with skeleton staff.

Probation must reset and decide what a probation officer should be. Put the relevant degree or social work training back in place, require prior relevant work experience and work out how to bring in the young, old, life experienced and life inexperienced alike. Until then, my advice to those thinking about probation is that it’s a job, but there are better paid and more rewarding careers out there.

I trained new officers for ten years or more and it was always a two way exchange of ideas. Then one morning my SPO sent me a message saying that they were no longer going down the mentor route , and I was no longer to do it, by lunchtime I had two new cases…..the osmosis style of learning is now king….i would suggest that the attrition rate has increased accordingly as new officers don’t have a named mentor, least not in my corner of the probation universe……..

Senior and line management obsession with performance management and so-called quality assurance has condemned the workforce to a life of unbearable stress and a laptop probation service. Result: exit experienced and newly-qualified staff under demoralised mega-stress. NAPO must build a fight back and show campaigning leadership as opposed to simply turning up to negotiations knowing they are paper tigers.

I have never accessed the EAP stuff. The trust between me and the employer is zero, so why would I in any state of vulnerability and distress dial in to their shitty and doubtless cheap and outsourced EAP? Would I feel safe? Be safe? It's there to tick a box. And box ticking does nothing for anyone other than the bean-counter and the manager blissfully thinking they're more powerful than the counter of beans.

Sunday 10 March 2024

Fancy Being a Probation Officer? 2

It's been a long time since I felt able to put together a compendium of contributions, but just recently I've detected a fresh tide of anger and despair and it's coinciding with a dramatic fall in recruitment and retention. We all know probation is utterly broken and needs fixing and the time is right to say it loudly and repeatedly:-

A friend’s son asked me about joining. He is in his 30s with plenty of life experience and a positive happy go lucky mindset. 20 years ago I’d have been very happy to help him join and felt good about it. Instead I warned him off telling him to steer clear and trust me on it. The reason I did so is because he is a good lad and I know his mum. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for upsetting her and messing up his life.

Funnily enough, I had a conversation with an offender in a prison this morning who rang for an update on when his parole is likely to be. The conversation went on to other relevant topics and he said he was concerned that he would be allocated another officer in the community if he is released. I agreed that due to other circumstances at play, he most likely would. I agreed that this was not optimal but this is where we are and the times were are in. Gone are the days when we had a lifer from start to release and then in the community. He said he did not want to rehash all his life all over again with someone new and I completely understood that too and in fact sympathised with it. More tellingly, and this is where today's post resonates, he said he did not want an offender manager who did not have life experience. He did not want someone 'young' who has not lived life. He was in his forties and wanted someone who would understand life and some of the issues which affect us all. Unfortunately,

'...You should hear some of the newly qualified officers berating those who have been in the job for decades when they know nothing about life let alone probation work...'

refers and I absolutely know that he will not get what he wants because in the office I am in, it does not exist although it is very badly needed and they know it. All gone. Those of us who are experienced are regrettably, a dying breed. I stay because now an old cove, I always considered it a vocation and that is very difficult to walk away from for me anyway.

Part of the issue with retention for trainees is the job description. ‘Want to make a difference’, ‘rehabilitation’ and all the other buzz words and catchy phrases. If job descriptions were accurate and stated that the job was 90-95% admin and that ‘POPs’ actually get in the way of endless form filling, irrelevant emails, endless NSI’s for everything and ridiculously long repetitive and convoluted Oasys assessments, then at least people would enter the role with realistic expectations.

Completely agree. The adds should read ‘Want to fill out long forms and spend hours in front of your computer imagining you are making a difference? Want to be responsible for high risk cases but not have time to work with them? Want to be part of an organisation that doesn’t care about you, those you work with or your local community? If the answer to these questions is ‘Yes’ then you could be the ideal candidate to join the probation service. Under 25, fresh out of uni, naive, not too bright (it helps not to be) No problem.

It's almost encouraging that HMPPS continue to peddle the "buzz words and catchy phrases". Like a fading recognition that a) that is what identifies probation b) what attracts people to it. Trouble is, what should be a philosophy and culture is just buzz words and catchy phrases. If HMPS really meant it, there would be a big top down strategy to cement a culture of rehabilitation and all that entails. You can't run a cruel, punitive enforcement agency with cruelty and punishment seeping through every HR and practice policy, and the everyday language of the organisation, and just pin a pious message onto the letterhead. If they really mean it, they must follow it up with a root and branch cultural refreshment. And clean separation of Probation from the prison system.

I had a first weekend of retirement moment on Sunday: I felt rising anxiety, then realised that I didn't have to go in and open up the emails the next day. That is true of everybody who ever retired: However, what struck me was that my anxiety was "What have they done?", not "How are they doing?". That is the shift in culture that we have undergone. 

I recall a decade ago having literally sleepless nights because my lad was coming out of prison and had no accommodation lined up. The idea that a human being for whom I had some responsibility could be in that awful situation filled me with horror. If I couldn't get that sorted, then WTF was I for? Scroll forwards ten years, and without missing a beat, I routinely saw people in the same position, signposted them to a local agency that would- or might- give them a tent, and got back to the keyboard. Where I would, of course, complete an assessment of their risk as raised due to their homelessness, and an evaluation of how that, they, might be managed.

PS "My lad" was doing fine last time I looked. Back then I and a colleague with an awesome little notebook of local contacts, found him a roof for over his head, it wasn't brilliant but we got him there and then on and out to better. The colleague has like me left, couldn't bear it anymore. And with him his awesome little notebook. Shame. Shame! Pearly

I couldn’t think of anything worse than being a probation officer these days, undervalued, poor training, lack of diversity in workforce, punitive agenda, join the police, earn more, retire earlier.

Joining the police is like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Many professions such as teaching, social work, nursing and probation are undervalued. A brief examination of news articles will show that there is relatively little positive coverage reflecting the skills and knowledge of practitioners. The impression is that anyone, even someone fresh out of university, can do these jobs. 

There is plenty of negative coverage regarding those who are considered to have fallen below the standards required. Being sacked is not good enough as they must be sacked and thrown under a bus by their senior leaders. It’s a mixed bag but one thing that unites these professions is that they are mostly feminised. It is probably true that those men who would have joined the probation service in the 80s would not now consider joining unless they really want to embrace working in a female dominated environment where they will only progress if they are willing to ditch their masculinity. 

Feminised professions generally suffer low wage increases, tend to be less actively unionised, and in some cases are not considered to be proper professions especially by right wing governments but rather as 'do-gooder' vocations where earning money and professional status are secondary to satisfaction gained from caring and helping. This is perpetuated in the media. When the public perception bubble is bust, then it is like open season with teachers and young doctors/nurses being portrayed as greedy selfish or lazy and out to harm kids, old people etc but at the same time providing a vital service we all want.

“There is a big problem group of millennials who think older more experienced officers are toddlers who should retire asap.” No, no, no! Most of the older more experienced probation officers I come across should retire asap. They are the rudest and most unhelpful set of people. I am tired that this set of POs, PSOs, staff think harping on about their 20 years experience entitles them to think they own the probation office and can be rude and offensive to everyone else. Worse are the ones older than that who think administrators are servants and can’t do anything unless the admin does it for them. Once upon a time we had decent experienced staff, but now we’re left with the chaff. Out with the old and in with the new.

Correct. It is the recruitment of young and inexperienced staff that is the problem. Perhaps bring in a mandatory life/work experience test and 6 months voluntary in the local food bank or similar. Probation should never be a first job for someone fresh out of university. It’s double punishment for the punters. We used to weed these people out in the assessment centres as having insufficient life skills, but then we were instructed to take anyone with a pulse.

Completely agree with the comments about the wrong type of people being employed. Don't get me wrong, there are a couple in my team with potential but we've also had to have the counter corruption team in as there is now a culture developing of cocaine usage - open secret on nights out with all the younger lot.

This isn’t about age, but we definitely need to address the gender and ethnicity balance and lack of life experience for some of the new recruits though. Mainly due to the complexity of issues our clients bring to their supervision. Never have I experienced such difficulty in engagement of the people we work with. IMO this is because we are not spending time with them, building a relationship and doing the work we should be. We are administering a sentence now, not delivering rehabilitation. Whilst we allow HMPPS to erode the skills we have, the vocation of probation practice and our value base- we will end up as a service offering nothing other than community enforcers.

I think it is too late. I battled on for years before eventually calling it a day as it was impacting on my health. I got disciplined 6 months before I left after a 30 year spotless record. The reason was that I failed to keep records to the required standard. I used to spend time with my clients. I remember my practice teacher saying to me ‘people not paper’ I did not use the prescribed format for contacts and refused to change on the basis that it made no sense. I was directed to look at a good example. This was someone I knew spent on average 10 mins seeing her clients but nevertheless produced long detailed contacts that were grammatically perfect - had a degree in English. I read them all on all her cases and spookily they were all very similar. I am sure one of those plagiarism detectors would have something interesting to say. Not one of my bullet point working notes type entries was the same and accurately reflected the ongoing work. But I am the one in trouble even though I rarely breach and all mine used to show up. It didn’t seem right so I quit. Since quitting I volunteer and litter pick and help out at the local community centre helping refugees. I recently retrained as a counsellor. I feel like I am doing something useful unlike the last 6 months of working in probation when I just felt like an outcast. Quit now and do something useful with your life.

They just need tick boxing robots these days. I go in for the money. It is miserable. Really negative workplace. If a warehouse job paid better I’d do that. I feel less loyalty to the organisation every day. No one gives a crap anymore. Mind you it’s the same everywhere. Crap government, NHS has gone downhill, rubbish everywhere, levelling up runs downhill to the south. Got a Union email the other day saying HMPPS HQ sent a sick note to the meeting they were supposed to attend. Back in the day employers met with unions at a big meeting called NNC. If the employers wanted to negotiate they were there mob handed. This lot don’t even turn up. They should try a couple of weeks on the frontline then they’d know what feeling sick feels like. Making out they are irreplaceable.

At our Birmingham office there are good young officers but also the immature lazy ones. Had to endure a whole morning of chat between 2 about Crocs and what to get for KFC. Discussions with POPs on loudspeaker. The officers should be sitting with their own teams but hide in the attic space saved for hot desking as they know they can get away from doing hardly any work. It isn't an age thing just the type of person who has no desire to put in the work with a bad attitude. Management are fully aware but only care about weekly quizzes and everything on the diversity calendar

Yes and this appears to be the notorious office in Birmingham that hit the blog a few months ago. How long do they let this PDU head continue to manage before action is taken, or he is made accountable for decisions made within his PDU. It is shocking to know that this is happening in one office and in the another office within the same PDU has overworked staff who manage unworkable caseloads. My understanding is that he has allowed one office to function in green prioritisation framework by resourcing it and left the other office in amber with WMT for officers at up to 180% ! How is it possible to have 2 offices in a PDU working 2 prioritisation frameworks ? Why is a head allowed to treat people in this way ?

I'm not surprised that Probation recruitment has fallen off a cliff edge. Many of the younger potential Probation Officers are very media savvy and well versed with social media which gives numerous accounts of the toxicity of Probation. They are forewarned about the blame culture and grinding workloads and probably (and sensibly) choose to look for work elsewhere.

I trained at a time when you were expected to have significant life and work experience prior to training. We had to cut our teeth on roles such as residential child care or youth work etc, It helped to sort the wheat from the chaff. You knew what you were getting into and whether you had the resilience and understanding to do the job. That's all changed now and with it retention will plummet. Also the job was nowhere near as stressful back when I started. Yes, it was very challenging, always has been but you felt supported and there was not the idiotic bureaucracy there is now. I didn't go to work daily worrying about an SFO, who has stabbed who or died from drugs overdose, the lack of support for service users with such complex mental health issues. I would not recommend this job to anyone, not to my children or anyone else I know. How could I do that whilst I know the level of angst and the mental health issues this job has brought to me. Anxiety and PTSD symptoms to name a few. 

I would advise people to steer clear and avoid being an AI 'screw on wheels', forced to bang up people with MH issues and complex personality disorders, no autonomy, just part of a broken system, then hauled over hot coals when something out of your control happens. Too much responsibility too much stress and compromised beliefs and not enough respect or rewards. Can't even tell friends or public what you do, they have no understanding or could react negatively if they do and you get no social recognition such as a Doctor, nurse, teacher would get despite the important job we have trying to keep the public safe. This is something we rarely acknowledge in my opinion but it's important. This leaves you feeling undervalued and invisible and saps your self esteem. You feel like a persona non grata, if that's the correct Latin as I can't be bothered to check!

Are we not all in this together (pqip, nqo, PO with 20 years experience)? Surely we should be, do we not want the same things, did we not join the service for broadly the same things? Why are so many of you criticising the young people or criticising the experienced practitioners. Working at probation is pretty dire at the moment and fighting each other and turning against colleagues doesn't help. I'm an NQO with the utmost respect for experienced colleagues and I have found every single one of my team exceptionally helpful. I'm sorry others haven't but can we not support each other through this s@@t show and try get through together?

The job is simply unmanageable now. They are expecting us to be all things to everyone when the reality is we have crumbling public services and no resources. I am fed up of being expected to do everyone else’s job including my own .. “oh it’s only a small form” “we’ve streamlined the process” no, all you’ve done is add another admin task to my day. I am not a housing officer nor a police officer! The pay is piss poor and the only good part of the job is working with the PoPs who teach me far more about life than the toothless managers that spend their time wasting mine.

Thursday 7 March 2024

Another Graphic Illustration of Failings

With quite astonishing testimony coming in on the state of probation, including cocaine use and 90% of the job being work on the laptop, one cannot escape the conclusion that fundamental restructuring cannot be far off. As the latest SFO review from the new HM Chief Inspector confirms, the present state of affairs is untenable. Here's the press release:-  

Independent serious further offence review of Joshua Jacques


On 25 April 2022 police forced entry to a property in Bermondsey, London, where the bodies of Denton Burke (aged 68), Dolet Hill (aged 64), Tanysha (Raquel) Ofori-Akuffo (aged 45), and Samantha Drummonds (aged 27) were found. All four victims had suffered stab wounds and lacerations. Joshua Jacques was charged with these murders.

In June 2022, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State asked the Chief Inspector of Probation to undertake an independent review into how the Probation Service managed Joshua Jacques, as he was under probation supervision when he was arrested for these offences. This review was completed in November 2022 and can now be published following the completion of criminal proceedings.


Chief Inspector of Probation Martin Jones CBE stated:

“There were serious failings in the supervision of Joshua Jacques. Despite concerns about repeated non-compliance with his licence conditions, enforcement practice was inconsistent and opportunities to recall Jacques to custody were missed.

“Joshua Jacques was incorrectly allocated to a newly qualified probation officer who had only finished their training three months before being assigned the case. Under guidelines by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), Jacques should have been allocated to an experienced, qualified probation officer. The probation practitioners in this case lacked the required experience to respond adequately to the complexity of the case. The management oversight of the probation practitioners involved in this case was also insufficient. Probation staff reported a lack of confidence in decisions made by their line manager, contributing to a reluctance to seek out further management oversight.

“There was a lack of professional curiosity in all areas of probation practice in this case. This meant several events, such as an arrest for further offences, disclosure of declining mental health, problematic behaviour towards neighbours, a new relationship, and the unpermitted use of social media, were not responded to or explored sufficiently.

“Joshua Jacques was appropriately assessed as posing a high risk of serious harm to the public prior to his release from custody. However, his risk in other categories, including to staff or potential partners was underestimated. No risk assessment was completed for Jacques following his release which resulted in no risk management plan or sentence plan in the community being completed.

“Probation practitioners were aware of Jacques’ mental health history, including that he had been sectioned in 2018 and that he had behaved violently during a period when his mental health was not stable. Jacques had also reported that random aggression could be a symptom of declining mental health. In February 2022, Jacques disclosed to probation court staff that he was experiencing a decline in his mental health; however, no action was taken. Inspectors found during this review that probation staff felt ill equipped to understand and respond to mental health concerns, with limited training and support being available to them.

“The case records show that Jacques was routinely using cannabis whilst on probation, and his licence contained a condition to engage in a drug abuse intervention on release from prison. No such intervention was organised by the Probation Service and our inspection found no evidence of a referral to a drugs agency.

“Sadly, this case is symptomatic of the issues we have observed across the probation service in recent years. A reliance on an inexperienced cohort of probation staff, a lack of support for mental health and substance misuse issues alongside insufficient management oversight are concerns which have been highlighted repeatedly. As a result of this review, eight recommendations were made to HMPPS. They have accepted all these recommendations and responded with an action plan for implementing them.”

The following extracts are from the full report and although lengthy, give a graphic illustration of the fundamental flaws in how the probation service as simply not fit for purpose as part of HMPPS and under civil service control.  

1. Foreword 

In April 2022, Joshua Jacques was charged with the murders of a family of four: Denton Burke, Dolet Hill, Tanysha Ofori-Akuffo, and Samantha Drummonds. On 21 December 2023 he was found guilty of murder following trial. 

Joshua Jacques was under probation supervision when he was arrested for these offences, having been released from prison on licence in November 2021. Ordinarily, the Probation Service would conduct a review of the management of the case, in the form of a Serious Further Offence (SFO) review. In this case, the Secretary of State for Justice asked HM Inspectorate of Probation to complete an independent review into how the Probation Service managed Joshua Jacques. 

The impact of these shocking crimes cannot be underestimated and will have had a profound impact on their family and the wider community. We offer our sincere and heartfelt condolences and recognise that the family need information about how Joshua Jacques was supervised in the community and answers as to whether there were failings in this practice.

This report presents the findings of our independent review and sets out that the practice in this case fell below the expected standards. 

As a result of recent recruitment drives and of experienced staff leaving the Probation Service, many probation teams now have large numbers of newly qualified officers (NQO) or recently qualified officers. In the Southwark Probation Delivery Unit (PDU), this situation impacted on the level of experience in the teams available to manage high risk and complex cases, something our core inspections have also routinely found. 

We found Joshua Jacques’ case was incorrectly allocated to an NQO, and the lack of good quality management oversight of this member of staff impacted on the quality of decisions made. There was a notable absence of professional curiosity1 across all areas of probation practice from court through to sentence management, and a failure of the probation practitioners overseeing the case and their manager to meet fully their expected responsibilities. As a result, several significant events, such as an arrest for further offences, disclosure of declining mental health, problematic behaviour towards neighbours, a new relationship and use of social media when not permitted to do so, were not responded to sufficiently. 

While appropriate referrals were made to Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) and to Approved Premises (AP) by the probation practitioner, these critical elements of increased supervision did not fulfil their potential in supporting the management of risk of serious harm posed by Joshua Jacques. An initial OASys assessment was not completed upon his release, which meant that his management in the community was not supported by a robust risk management plan, nor a sentence plan to inform his supervision on licence. The pace and level of engagement of Joshua Jacques with his licence was seemingly determined by him, rather than the probation practitioners, who viewed his engagement and progress too optimistically.

There were concerns Joshua Jacques was not complying with the conditions of his licence and, though this happened repeatedly, they were each dealt with in isolation. Practitioners did not see the bigger picture and missed opportunities to respond sufficiently to his concerning behaviours, for example through a recall to prison. 

Many of the findings of this review mirror those of our thematic and regional probation inspections. This review makes eight recommendations to His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service which we require implementation of as a matter of urgency to ensure learning is implemented quickly and nationally, not just in the PDU where this case was supervised.

Martin Jones CBE 
HM Chief Inspector of Probation

5. Summary of Key findings 

JJ’s supervision was characterised by several practice deficits and missed opportunities which impacted on how JJ was managed on licence. Nine key themes identified from the independent review are outlined below. 

Risk of serious harm assessment 

In custody, two OASys assessments were completed which concluded that JJ posed a high risk of serious harm to the public, specifically identifying the public to be drug users and peers operating in drug supply. This was an appropriate assessment, however it failed to identify all factors that were linked to the risk of serious harm such as his mental health, substance misuse and current accommodation. JJ was assessed as posing a low risk of serious harm in all other categories, which was an underestimation of the level of risk he posed. 

An initial OASys assessment was commenced upon release, however, this was never fully completed and remained an incomplete document. This was poor practice and was not in line with organisational expectations. 

The failure to complete an OASys assessment on release resulted in no assessment of risk of serious harm and no risk management plan in the community to inform how the risk posed should be safely managed while on licence. Additionally, there were no sentence plan objectives to support and inform the supervision appointments, which should have been targeted to address those factors most likely to contribute towards further offending. Further reviewing did not take place following MAPPA meetings, nor in response to changes of circumstances and significant events. Completing a review would have enabled the probation practitioner to consider the significance of new information, and review the sentence and risk management plans accordingly, to ensure the necessary arrangements were in place to protect the public. 

The pre-sentence report prepared for court, and the OASys completed following sentence to the suspended sentence order, both replicated the pre-release assessment and did not take the opportunity to consider all available information to support an updated and holistic assessment. 

MAPPA meetings considered the level of risk of serious harm posed by JJ; however, this did not negate the need for an OASys assessment to be completed. This is essential probation practice to ensure that the management of each case is supported by a robust and defensible assessment of risk of serious harm and need. In the absence of a formal assessment using the OASys tool, inspectors would have expected to see other evidence of assessment and planning within case management records. However, there were no such records to satisfy us that a clear understanding of how to manage the risks posed were in place. 

Professional curiosity and optimism bias 

PO1 and PO2 put a strong focus on addressing JJ’s needs, such as accommodation and employment. Though these were important factors and progress was made, the supervision sessions were not underpinned by a sentence plan and there was no evidence of interventions which focused on offender behaviour being delivered. Inspectors found that this strong emphasis on relationship building and addressing JJ’s needs was not balanced against the need to manage risk of serious harm. 

Probation practitioners viewed JJ’s behaviour on licence through an over optimistic lens and did not fully understand the expectations on them to be professionally curious and proactive. As a result, they did not adequately explore issues such as why he had purchased a vehicle, or his problematic behaviour in his accommodation and they failed to inform police of a second breach of the criminal behaviour order (CBO). 

These skills of professional curiosity grow and develop with practitioner confidence and experience, and with the effective support and oversight from peers and managers. There was a lack of experience within the probation practitioner staff group at Southwark PDU and lack of robust management oversight further contributed to this. Where a workforce has limited experience, they need guidance from those with a more established level of knowledge to provide support and oversight to aid their development. 


Good probation practice seeks to motivate people on probation to comply and engage positively with the requirements of their sentence. While this should include a focus on desistance from further offending, it should also include appropriate enforcement action being taken when required. Instances of non-compliance should be responded to in a proportionate, fair, and transparent manner.

Enforcement practice in this case was inconsistent, with instances of non-compliance considered in isolation rather than seen in the round. Opportunities to escalate and consult with the delivery unit head (HOS1) were not sought. There was a failure to act upon a pre-release assessment that identified that swift enforcement of the CBO and licence were required to manage the risk of serious harm posed by JJ. Enforcement guidance issued in October 2021 was not followed. Our inspectors felt the decision not to recall JJ following his arrest for further offences was defensible. However, in making the decision, senior manager oversight should have been sought by SPO1 and the failure to do so was against expected practice. The enforcement practice in this case did not analyse the behaviour being displayed by JJ, nor did it explore whether additional supportive or restrictive measures short of recall were needed to manage his licence. 

Resourcing and workload 

Southwark PDU had been operating under ‘green’ status under the national prioritising probation framework but had several vacancies, particularly at probation officer and probation service officer grade. Many staff within the PDU were at early stages of their career and there were limited numbers of experienced staff available. The probation practitioners in this case lacked the required experience to respond adequately to the complexity of the case and behaviours being presented. In addition, the pace and volume of work impacted on the quality of work undertaken in this case. 

HMPPS’s Tiering framework and case allocation guidance was not followed, and JJ’s case should have been allocated to a more experienced probation practitioner. The allocated probation practitioner in this case was within their newly qualified probation officer (NQO) period and in allocating the case, the SPO should have been assured that PO1 had the required knowledge, skill, and experience to manage the case effectively. JJ’s tier increased following the initial MAPPA meeting and this should have prompted re-allocation of practitioner in line with the expected practice for NQOs. 

Management oversight 

Management oversight was of an insufficient standard. Staff reported a lack of confidence in decisions made by their line manager, contributing to a reluctance to seek out further management oversight. When sought, decisions made by the probation practitioners would generally be approved without the necessary discussion or scrutiny needed to ensure that the most appropriate course of action was being taken. Opportunities to escalate to HOS1 were also missed. 

Similar to the findings from the Inspectorate’s broader local inspection programme, the workload, and responsibilities of line managers in this Probation Delivery Unit were found to be concerning. SPOs were managing large teams and were expected to provide support and oversight of their staff and manage human resource issues, as well as provide oversight and scrutiny of each probation practitioner’s caseload. SPOs also have additional lead responsibilities, such as MAPPA, which impact on their ability to perform their role to the expected standards. 

Inspectors also found insufficient processes in place to manage staff absence. PO1 was absent from work for a period of three months. While during this time PO2 had maintained contact with JJ on their own initiative, the process for caseload reallocation during an absence was not clear, which resulted in a lack of clear ownership of this case and many of PO1’s other cases during this period. 

Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) 

JJ’s index offence (the last set of criminal actions that brought him into contact with the criminal justice system) meant that he was not automatically eligible for management under multi agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA). Therefore, it was good practice for JJ to have been referred to MAPPA as a Level 2, Category 3 case. However, there was insufficient evidence that this MAPPA referral positively impacted upon the management of the case. 

The MAPPA referral for JJ was completed late, only one month prior to release. To allow effective coordination this should have been done six months prior. In recognition of the complexity of the case and imminency of need, it was positive to see that JJ was listed promptly for discussion once he had been referred. However, the initial delay in referral resulted in little time for MAPPA to effectively contribute to the pre-release planning, with PO1 having already set licence conditions with the prison, without a contribution from the MAPPA panel. 

The minutes from each of the four the MAPPA meetings held to discuss JJ were of an insufficient standard, providing limited evidence that partner agencies were active in supporting the management of risk of serious harm he presented. 

There were missed opportunities for meaningful actions to be set in response to new information, and a lack of oversight of outstanding actions. JJ was de-registered from MAPPA oversight without an adequate rationale, whilst two actions which had already been carried forward remained outstanding. 

Approved Premises 

The Approved Premises (AP) placement was an opportunity to positively contribute to the management of JJ’s risk of serious harm. Key work sessions were held by AP staff which were appropriately focused, with structured sessions on the immediate needs of JJ; exploring issues such as registration with a GP, finance, and education, training, and employment (ETE), which supported his resettlement into the community. However, professional curiosity was not applied during AP staff interactions with JJ. There is no evidence that there was sufficient exploration of his behaviour and movements, which would have aided the probation practitioner’s understanding of how JJ was spending his time away from the AP. 

AP staff should play a significant role, both in providing relevant risk information to the probation practitioner and in contributing to effective risk management. It is essential that they understand the risk of serious harm presented, are actively involved in the delivery of the risk management plan and are part of MAPPA meetings. An AP representative was not able to engage in pre-release planning due to the delayed referral, and subsequently did not attend the MAPPA meetings held, which impacted on pre-release planning, information exchange and the effective risk management of the case.

Mental health 

JJ had been sectioned previously in 2018 and had informed probation practitioners that feelings of anxiety and paranoia were normal for him. Prior to release, JJ’s mental health was described to be stable, and probation practitioners stated that there were no obvious signs of a mental health decline upon release into the community. 

However, he was described by PO1 as presenting as ‘low’ on occasion, which was attributed to boredom and need for structure in the community. Days prior to the SFO, JJ was described as talkative and going off on irrelevant tangents in his conversations with probation staff. Furthermore, JJ informed PSR1 that when committing the further offences on licence, he had been experiencing poor mental health. This was not explored further and there was a lack of significance given to this statement, resulting in no analysis or action. 

Probation practitioners were aware of JJ’s mental health history but lacked any detailed information. They were also aware that he had behaved violently during a period when his mental health was not stable, and JJ himself had reported that random aggression could be a sign of his mental health declining. However, this was not identified as a factor linked to risk of serious harm within OASys assessments. Additionally, the correlation between his continued use of illegal substances and his mental health was not sufficiently explored or responded to. Prior to JJ’s release from custody, information on JJ’s mental health was sent by the prison mental health in-reach team to his registered GP, however they were not aware that the GP had retired. Upon registration with a new GP, this prior information on JJ’s mental ill health was not passed to them. 

There was a reliance on JJ recognising and self-reporting a decline in his mental health and on the one occasion he disclosed such concerns no action was taken. Probation practitioners stated that there was a gap in services available to support those with mental health, particularly if there were also substance misuse concerns. As emphasised by the report published in 2021, A joint thematic inspection of the criminal justice journey for individuals with mental health needs and disorders, mental health can present significant challenges for probation practitioners, and is often characterised by insufficient information exchange and the need for better training and support. Inspectors found during this review that staff felt ill equipped to understand and respond to mental health concerns, with limited training and support being available. 

Substance misuse 

JJ had used cannabis since he was a child and was described to be lacking insight into the harmful effects of his substance misuse. Probation records and a psychiatrist’s assessment indicate a link between JJ’s substance misuse use and mental health, and that JJ’s sectioning in 2018 had been preceded by the consumption of medication, alcohol, and cannabis. Additionally, much of JJ’s offending was linked to substance misuse. 

Probation case records show that JJ was routinely using cannabis while on licence. He had completed substance misuse intervention programmes in custody and his licence contained a condition to engage in a drug abuse intervention on release from prison. However, such an intervention was not organised by probation practitioners, and we could find no evidence of a referral to a drugs agency. 

Inspectors found that probation practitioners did not explore the underlying reasons for JJ’s substance misuse, and minimised and tolerated regular use while he was on licence. This was underpinned by a failure to adequately analyse the impact of substance misuse to the risk of serious harm he posed.