Saturday 27 April 2024

Guest Blog 97

Probation re-set, revise and regret

I reset my email password today, that’s something you re-set. You do not re-set an entire organisation with over 100 years of history. It’s been discussed in the shadows for some time now, but the dye has been cast, the touch paper is lit. They’re calling it Probation Re-set, the whisper has become a reality though we do not need a “re-set”, we need resources, independence and staff.

First they “transformed” probation, which really meant dismantling and privatising. Then they “unified” probation which meant joining two disjointed organisations and papering over the mistakes of the past decade. Now the wallpaper is peeling off the walls and HMPpS is using probation to absorb the smoke of the prison overcrowding crisis, blaming probation for recalls and deluding us to believe it needs to be “re-set”. My question is re-set to what exactly?

Probation is not being re-set to its gold medal award status of over a decade ago, it is not being re-set and returned to its social work roots of advise, assist and befriend, it is not being re-set and detached from the hangman’s noose of the civil and prison services. The “re-set” will scrap PSS and terminate all supervised cases at the two thirds point, excepting those registered as MAPPA and child protection cases. All sentence management contact under PSS will cease. All supervision appointments delivered by probation will cease in the final third (unless the exception criteria is met). Contact for People on Licence (PoLs?) will cease in the final third (unless exception criteria is met).

I remember when probation fought to provide supervisory support to those sentenced to under 12 months in custody. We didn’t expect this to arrive in the form of Post Sentence Supervision (PSS), which ramped up workloads and forced support onto many released prisoners that did not require it. Short term sentences should have been replaced by community sentences and PSS should have been legislated as optional for those released from short term prison sentences. If PSS needed to be mandatory then this should have been for the first three months and only extended by mutual agreement and without enforcement practices. Instead there has been a total u-turn and community supervision is being reduced, PSS to be suspended or scrapped altogether and supervised individuals no longer supported in the last third of their supervision. Have we missed the evidence-based research that told HMPpS experts those in the last third of a sentence do not need support, won’t commit crime, or pose a risk to themselves, victims and communities?

If probation is an agency of rehabilitation, enforcement, risk management and public protection then this surely will not be achieved by cancelling supervision and support when it could be needed most. Under “re-set” guidelines an individual could be sentenced to a few years in prison or put on probation, released 60 days in advance of the half way point, to then have their supervision suspended after 6 months on probation. Without dwelling on whether this is what the Courts and victims expect a sentence to be in actual fact, it does not sound very rehabilitative for those in need of help and support.

The rhetoric is that “we will reset probation so that practitioners prioritise early engagement at the point where offenders are most likely to breach their licence conditions. That will allow front-line staff to maximise supervision of the most serious offenders”. The first big elephant in the room is that once again probation is being twisted into an agency for supervising “serious offenders”. Many individuals do not start off as serious offenders and can still require support which will no longer be available. The support that could be needed for those released from prison 60 days early, homeless, penniless and addicted is to be reduced instead of improved. 

The second is that supervisory relationships do not always flourish until the very last periods of sentences. This will no longer happen when supervision is cancelled, not for good progress, but because the computer calculated that an individuals two thirds are up.

The cynical person I am thinks that Probation Re-set is part of the grand design of OneHMPpS which has consumed the Probation Service alive, warts and all. All HMPPS, Rees & Co needed to do was let go of their grip on the Probation Service and allow it to improve its staffing, practices and resources under a more localised control structure. Instead they’re continuing Grayling’s legacy by dismantling what’s left and ensuring probation is no longer a provider of probation services. Or we can be like the Emperor and believe the lies that Probation Re-set is going to save probation, at least for five minutes!

“The Emperor walked under his high canopy in the midst of the procession, through the streets of his capital. All the people standing by, and those at the windows, cried out, “Oh! How beautiful are our Emperor’s new clothes! “But he has nothing at all on!” at last cried out all the people. The Emperor was upset, for he knew that the people were right, and the Emperor walked on in his underwear.”

Probation Officer

Wednesday 24 April 2024


Things round here never fail to surprise me on occasion. When on Sunday I was scratching around for something to either say or publish, I never thought a few thoughts by a reader about their practice would generate quite so much activity and on so many fronts! As the thread was getting a bit long, the following seemed to warrant a fresh post and to remind ourselves of the command and control environment we find ourselves trapped within and so loved of HMPPS:-    

Those making up these terms really don’t care how they’re abbreviated or how they sound. Take a few recent terms for example. Recently I was on a prison visit and introduced the titles POM and COM. The prisoner started laughing because “COM sounds like cum, and isn’t a POM a fruit in France or a British immigrant in Oz”. Then take the person that recently came into the probation office announcing he’s “on the piss”. What he meant was he’s been released on PSS.

Person in Prison and Person on Probation are not that bad or “disrespectful”, they’re no worse than calling people convict or offender. Some smart Alec in the centre should have thought these would be abbreviated to PIP and POP which just sound ridiculous. The problem isn’t the terms and abbreviations, it’s the reason behind their creation that is the problem. For years the senior managers have been trying to close the divide between PO and PSO roles, which is why we’ve now been stuck with Probation Practitioner PP (Peepee!!!) to cover all practitioner grades. To differentiate between custody and community PPs we have COM and POM.

If consecutive governments hadn’t been obsessed with being ‘tough on crime’ and turning probation into an ‘enforcement agency’ we would have stuck with ‘clients’ or ‘Probation clients’ as we used to. The Ministry of Justice won’t be softening its style guide under this government. Who knows what Amy Rees, Barton & Co are planning call everyone under OneHMPPS. While we wait in anticipation, please all follow Prison Instruction 3533684.

“When referring to people in prison, staff are allowed to use the terms “prisoners”, “people in prison” or “offenders. They cannot use “residents”, “service users” or “clients”.

When referring to people leaving prison, staff can say “prison leavers”, “people leaving prison”, “people resettling in the community” or “ex-offenders”. They cannot say “service users” or clients”.

When referring to prison accommodation, staff can say “cell”. They cannot say “room”.

A footnote to the style guide states: “All staff employed by the Ministry of Justice, HM Prison and Probation Service and private sector prison providers will be expected to adhere to the style guide, and amend any new products that fail to do so.”


Oh look - a shed load more acronyms too:-

Workforce planning system (WPS) transitioning to 'business as usual'

From 1 April 2024, the Workforce Planning System (WPS) will transition from being a project within the Probation Workforce programme (PWP) to being business as usual.

The WPS name will be retired and the work will be separated between new teams in 2 directorates which will retain close links to ensure the best outcomes to support frontline staff and workforce planning.

A new function in the Probation Operations Directorate (POD) led by Kim Thornden-Edwards:

Central Operations support will be responsible for:
  • probation role reviews
  • job evaluation, design and improvement
  • governance including National Operational Stability Panel (NOSP)
  • operational and tactical response including current account managers
  • operational data reporting
A new function in Transforming Delivery Directorate (TDD) led by Dominic Herrington:
  • Workforce and Capability (prison and probation workforce teams) will be responsible for:
  • probation activity review and resource modelling
  • managing strategic change
  • digital solutions including activities and weighting database

Sunday 21 April 2024

How Do You Do It?

A reader tells us how they do it:-

Many speak about having a good relationship with probation officers, feeling respected, listened to and treated fairly. This is not for all though as many speak about probation officers expecting them to agree even when they don’t, disregarding opinions and feelings of Pops, making unfair and unjust decisions, and being like or worse than the police.

This week out of the many Pops I saw a few turned up late, some missed appointments, one tested positive for and admitted returning to drugs, a few were drunk, one was arrested for driving offences, another told me TSP was rubbish, another he hates me, another he hates the police, on and on and on.

None of these Pops were warned or recalled, all eventually attended, the drug user is trying to stop, the drinkers are probably never going to stop, the arrest didn’t result in a charge, all were listened to and heard, all left the office thanking me for my time and even the one that hates me nicely confirmed he hates “the system” more than he hates me and at least he can speak to me while he can’t talk to “the system”. The point is that all had a moment in their week to be “normal” and all took away with the message that they can do whatever is right and necessary for them to do.

But I have other colleagues that would have been warning and recalling some of these Pops. Some would have not listened to these Pops and refused their opinions as if they don’t have a right to think or speak. For me, being a probation officer doesn’t make me perfect or right. I want Pops to learn from me but sometimes I learn from them too. I don’t collude with them, I don’t disrespect them, I can’t offer them much but I do try to advise, assist and befriend.

Friday 19 April 2024

A Raw Nerve

I notice the recently published HMIP 'Key Research Messages' document appears to have touched a raw nerve with some readers:-  

"Trauma informed" is the fashionable label. It is so not followed through in culture, practice, training. I sometimes doubt those writing this piffle have any understanding of trauma tbh. Actually don't know what they're talking about. 

Another fashionable label "Professional Curiosity". When that first came out as a thing, I heard the word "Professional" linked to "Curiosity" and leapt to the erroneous conclusion that what was being encouraged was a deep empathetic interest in the individual. Time to really talk. Nice. Turns out this was translated by HMPPS command, and HMIP, as , in essence, don't believe anything they say, check them out, anything they say and you find out, get it into a risk assessment, and watch your back.

Which brings me neatly round to being informed about trauma: you've been in prison, you're anxious and already traumatised by that and whatever got you there. Your continuing (partial) liberty depends on a person who has been told to build an empathic relationship with you, but who won't believe a word you say, and will recall you if you slip up. So much for that then.


Gosh you are so, so right! What could have been a useful concept has been mis-interpreted to the extent of creating dangerous practice. By proliferating the mantra that everything has to be "verified" and "evidence based" dis-credits the person's own views on their own internal world, failing in our aim to formulate meaningful and collaborative assessments. Whoever writes this stuff fails to understand that it is simply not possible to "always seek evidence" for what the person says, and as a consequence, weakens our ability to explore and address relevant factors, and ultimately our ability to "manage risk".

What shocks me is that this is not ministerial policy - no minster stood up in parliament and dictated through law, or otherwise, that this concept had to be interpreted through such a draconian lens. We, ourselves, decided that this was the way.

Interpretations of professional curiosity such as "use an investigative approach" are translated by staff as "use an investigatory style of dealing with your people". As you say, distrust and disbelieve until proven otherwise is the style of interaction encouraged, and use the appointment to "constantly monitor for evidence of risk factors". This leads to interactions such as:

Appointment 1: I asked him where he got his expensive trainers from - he said his uncle bought them for him as a birthday present. I told him this seems unlikely and we explored whether he has reverted back to offending.

Appointment 2: He said he wouldn't engage or answer any questions as I disbelieve everything he says - I told him he must engage - that it is his responsibility to build a good relationship with me.

Appointment 3: Failed to attend

Appointment 4: Failed to attend



By way of contrast, I publish here a short extract from stuff I regularly delete. I don't like doing it and regular readers will be aware I ran the blog for years completely unmoderated, but for my well being I have to believe it does not represent widely-held views within the service today:-  
"Offenders are deviant and cunning they need managing punishing and watching. That's why they are called crooked bent light fingered and tricky."

Thursday 18 April 2024

A Familiar Message

Continuing with an Irish theme, I notice the Letter of the Day in the Irish Times has some very familiar messages from many in the criminal justice system there:- 

Plan for prison expansion is a bad idea
Penal policies that rely on imprisonment will either have no effect or make us less safe

We are members of Ireland’s criminology, political, and advocacy communities with deep knowledge of the Irish criminal justice system, and the research that shows how government can use penal and social policy in smart and equitable ways to keep all of society safe. We are deeply concerned with prison overcrowding, increases in the rate of imprisonment, and recent policy announcements to drastically increase the capacity of existing prisons.

Contrary to what is often assumed and the rhetoric we see in public debates, imprisonment is not an effective way of preventing or reducing crime. Research has demonstrated that sending someone to prison does not reduce their likelihood of reoffending, but can actually increase it. In addition, increasing sentence severity does not lead to more deterrence. Prison causes harm and fails to address the causes of offending or prepare people to reintegrate into society. Penal policies that rely on imprisonment will either have no effect or make us less safe.

It is true that prison overcrowding contributes to a situation in which Irish prisons are unsafe places to live or work and must be addressed. However, there are other ways to do this. For example, it is time for Ireland to move on from its addiction to short prison sentences. Of the 7,043 people committed to prison in 2022, 3,046 had received a sentence under 12 months.

For those receiving such a sentence for the first time, this is long enough to destroy their social and economic bonds (housing, employment or family), but not long enough for them to access any supportive services. For those who have been to prison before, clearly it is not helping them to solve the problems in their lives that represent barriers to desistance from crime.

The State’s own commissioned report on reoffending demonstrates how to reduce offending: by providing employment opportunities and drug treatment, ensuring treatment by justice actors is procedurally fair, and using community justice instead of prison sentences. Indeed, government policy is for prison only to be used as a last resort and community sanctions to be expanded.

At the same time, resolving offences outside of court wherever possible is shown to reduce crime more effectively than prosecution. This may be counterintuitive for some, but this is why lawmakers must engage seriously and consistently with research evidence.

The Probation Service also commissioned an evidence-based report on developing community service which calls for a desistance-informed approach, the development of restorative justice, and the use of social and economic policy levers. Yet, the Probation Service’s budget increased by just €2 million in 2023, a far cry from the €49.5 million now being allocated to prison expansion.

Laws must change to provide greater incentives for judges to sentence in an evidence-based way. 

Beyond community justice, if there is money for criminal justice, it is shameful not to invest this in our woefully underfunded victim support, restorative justice, social, youth and community work, addiction and poverty reduction sectors. While tens of millions of euro are easily thrown into failed approaches of the past, some of our most important victim and community services can count their staff on one hand.

A Government that is serious about helping victims and communities would invest in the services that we know will meet their needs. Penal policy is a social and political choice. Increases in imprisonment are not inevitable as is often implied. Demographic changes do not make prisons a good substitute for the social work, housing and mental health services that they are so often used to replace.

Increasing prison capacity by over 15 per cent will be difficult to reverse in the future, consigning numbers to record high levels for decades to come. As in any other public policy area, we should be phasing out, not expanding, our outdated, unsafe infrastructure.

We believe that every person must have the opportunity to achieve their potential to contribute to our society. Smart investment that learns from our successes and mistakes is the only way to move our country forward.

The time is now for an evidence-led approach to criminal justice. 
Yours, etc,

Assistant Professor in Criminology,
School of Law and Criminology,

(and loads of other signatories)

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Probation by Letters

A-Z of key research messages 

We are committed to disseminating and promoting research findings in a range of ways, helping to: (i) build a common understanding of what helps and what hinders probation and youth justice services (ii) align research, policy and practice. In this document we set out an A-Z of key research messages and concepts, with accompanying links to further reading.

Some might feel this is a useful endeavour and worthy of HMIP resource allocation at a time of obvious crisis and stress within the Probation Service. Others might disagree:-
"What a ghastly document this is....HMIP are so arrogant....they have it all wrong and are part of the problem....just look at the Irish system, who are clearly leading the way, and look at the research....HMIP want to tell US as practitioners to implement all of this, yet fail to criticise the system for failing to allow any of this to happen.....just love how "P" stands for personalisation and "R" stands for "RNR"....Public protection and risk management approaches aren't supported by evidence yet they scream at every PDU for not doing these to their exacting standards."

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Lessons to be Learned

A great piece here in thejournal from the Emerald Isle and that serves to remind us what sensible jurisdictions think about our failing probation service:-

Longest serving probation officer: 'Nail 'em, jail 'em policies will not solve repeat offending'

“Capture ‘em, nail ‘em, jail em” will not solve the problem of repeat offenders but including them in the community can positively move people away from a life of crime, Ireland’s most experienced Probation Service officer has said.

Gerry McNally has spent 45 years at the coal face of the Irish Probation Service, starting all the way back in 1978. He has spent that time working in the courts and the prisons and found himself trying to set people back on a straight track. He reached the level of Assistant Director with ‎responsibility for research projects, policy briefings and special international projects. He’s also a former President of the Confederation of European Probation (CEP).

It has been a long journey from his Monaghan upbringing and his degree in English, philosophy and psychology. That degree led him to teaching for two years but an interest in probation and the law led him to take a second degree in social sciences. He had no desire to become a social worker but was fascinated by the growing Irish interest in probation.

A riot in Mountjoy in 1971 saw then Justice Minister Dessie O’Malley work to find a different way of managing prisoners and to grow the Probation Service. McNally joined in 1978 and spent the rest of his professional life working in the area.

He has seen Ireland transform over the years and witnessed the societal impact of the heroin epidemic on the streets of Dublin in the 1980s and to the present era of organised crime mixed with the apparent hopelessness of drug addiction. In those 45 years of service he said the greatest skill is dealing with people in the criminal justice system not as individuals to isolate but as people to be included in communities.

McNally believes fundamentally that his role is separate from that of the gardaí. “Your purpose as a probation officer is about helping people change their behaviour – that the focus. So you’re actually working for the betterment of the community and the betterment of the individual. “And you work in partnership – you’re supervising the person on behalf of the court. You’re exercising authority yes but there is no benefit for us to be dealing with them in a capture ‘em, nail em, jail ‘em way,” he said.

The Probation Service is an agency of the Department of Justice, and defines its role as working to reduce offending, create safer communities and fewer victims through offender rehabilitation. Rehabilitating offenders to achieve and maintain positive change is at the core of the work carried out by the staff at The Probation Service. The Probation Service comprises 270 Probation Officers who are supported by Probation Assistants. A total of 500 people work for the Probation Service nationwide and it has an annual budget of €50 million.

Critical thinking

McNally said critical to that work there is a need for critical thinking, not just towards the people he is tasked with monitoring but also his own work. He said that key to that is the practice of probation officers moving in their roles every four or so years to “keep it fresh”.

“You don’t have to question everything, but you have to make sure that you have tested out the ideas. You have to be aware, but you also have to be critical of how you’re thinking and that you’re not just thinking in a program way. You almost have to be able to do everything fresh and avoid falling into routines,” he added.

Those routines, he said, can be caused by spending years in the prison system working with offenders. McNally said it took him a number of years to stop approaching cases in an institutionalised way.

Probation officers appear in court daily where they present reports and interact with gardaí and judges. They also meet offenders inside prisons and in the communities where they live. Mcnally said this is facilitated by working with the “entire community” from local organisations, school attendance officers, social workers and gardaí. “It’s a partnership, but everybody knows each other’s role. And you have to have clear boundaries. “That’s where I would stress that from the very beginning that the core business of probation is in the community – it’s about being enmeshed in the community about being part of the community,” he added.

McNally stresses repeatedly throughout the interview that the probation officer has a completely different role than a garda. His view is that in changing an offender’s outlook around committing crime that he is helping the victims – to dissuade a convicted criminal away from committing crime again is the goal. McNally said this is achieved by using psychology and techniques to help people “change culture”.

Lessons to be learned

There are lessons to be learned, he said, from other jurisdictions, particularly in England and Wales, where a focus on the punitive has replaced the holistic methods that McNally believes work for the betterment of communities.

He said the tragedy of the UK is that it was once the model for every other jurisdiction to follow but that changed 20 years ago because of a populist perspective from political leaders both in Labour and the Tories. McNally believes it will take 20 years for British practitioners to try and get back what they lost. “It went from being the model adopted across Europe to the example of the model that you don’t want to do. They are now more focused on enforcement, and risk management but that is a fundamental difference to the Irish approach of rehabilitation.

“The British model is not about rehabilitating people, it’s about restricting and controlling people. So it moves from a degree of partnership to actually much more overt, it’s almost like policing, which isn’t our role,” he said.

McNally said it was a warning for those who would recommend the lock them up and throw away the key model beloved of populist tough on crime exponents. “It was a cultural shift – both under Labour and the Conservative in England in the 1980s and the 1990s. “I think anybody who’s worked in the criminal justice system see that being tough, doesn’t necessarily bring about results. You don’t scare people straight. You don’t punish people straight and prison doesn’t necessarily make people better and deterrence works for about 20 minutes,” he explained.

McNally believes the key to changing offending behaviour is about showing people a different way to live. “If you treat people badly how can you expect them to show respect back. “It’s all about trying to not just teach people respect. There is a big thing that needs to be done and that is to give people hope.

“Most people don’t want to go to jail. Most people want to live a decent life. A lot of people don’t know how to live a decent life, because they have never had that experience and most people want to go straight. Yeah. Sooner or later. Yeah. But they don’t know how – what we try to do in Ireland is give them the tools to do that,” he added.


The statistics from the Probation Service is a fascinating snapshot of those who commit crime in Ireland. Offenders are for the most part men, at 84%, and 16% are women. They are 92% adults and 8% young people under the age of 18. The top offences in order of most referrals are drug offences, assault, theft, public order road traffic and burglary.

McNally is now facing into retirement but said that he will continue to work on international projects. His key takeaway from 45 years of working with the disaffected: ”Not changing is the biggest sin in the world. If the guy on probation isn’t changing we can’t blame them for not changing if we don’t change, we have to upscale ourselves and learn to do things differently.”

Monday 15 April 2024

Guest Blog 96

Reflections 2

I thought I would offer an update regarding my employment. My leaving the service approx 3 years ago was published anonymously as Guest Blog 84 in November 2021. 

I took early retirement after 21 years as a probation officer (in 2021). however I then worked elsewhere for approx 18 months. My old senior and the chief then persuaded me that my experience was sadly missed and asked if I would return on a part time basis? The promise of a mentoring role, guiding inexperienced and newly qualified officers whilst supporting my old team was, I thought, an opportunity to return to the work I once loved.

I have now achieved 15 months back in post as a part time PO, my case load currently sits at 170% capacity (workload management tool). I am told what to do by numerous SPO’s who all have differing agendas. I have had no refresher training and yet the way OASys is now written bears no resemblance to how I was trained. I am micro managed in every aspect of the role and told all decisions regarding enforcement, breach, recall, transfers, amendments and warnings etc ‘must’ have management oversight. 

The team is short staffed and cannot fill vacancies. I am told my role will change ‘when’ the vacancies are filled. People are now being directed to work at my office and sickness absence has reached new highs. Morale is lower than I have ever seen.

I am told that in order to complete mandatory training as part of the CBF framework I should now undertake that work as overtime! If I don’t, I simply won’t get my incremental pay rise! Under the current circumstances I have now tendered my resignation. I have undertaken an exit interview and was asked if I wanted more time to think about my decision (twice). I was then asked to defer my decision for a couple of months! (declined). 

The Service is broken beyond repair. The core skills of a professional Probation Officer are no longer required or desired. Good performance is measured in OASys timeliness and constant management oversight. The development of effective and meaningful relationships with offenders is no longer encouraged or required.

Prisons are at capacity, early release is now common place, PSS licence is on the cusp of being ditched, IPP sentences are being revoked due to the lack of capacity rather than the effectiveness of risk management. When it all goes wrong and the inevitable SFO’s start to occur, it will be the hapless ineffectual and over worked Probation Officer who will be thrown under the bus!

I am done, I give in, this Gold Star Service is no more. I have become a square peg that could never fit the shapeshifting demands of the HMPPS. Hope this helps the cause.

Best wishes,


Have something to say? Want space to reflect? Want to get something off your chest, but anonymously? Why not hit the keyboard and send it in for publishing?  

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Fancy Being a Probation Officer? 5

I’ve been in the service since 2010 and as a PO for the past 8 years and right now I am feeling so exhausted and disillusioned by the unrelenting pressures, constant high caseload and swift practice changes which make things worse (like ECSL, 14 day recalls for the majority of cases, clunky EPF to name a few!).

There is no emphasis or passion shown from above about the quality of work and actually doing a good job… now it’s all about skimming the surface, doing the bare minimum and ticking those boxes! This does not motivate me and what message does this give new recruits? It’s not just about getting the job done - it’s about doing a good job too!

In my area we are in amber measures and not delivering toolkits for low and medium ROSH cases - just aiming for tick box appointments and asking those risk related questions - the Courts don’t know this. Court reports make recommendations for toolkits and interventions and they are just not being delivered - it’s embarrassing. I no longer feel aligned to the service and am not prepared to compromise on my integrity and values and starting to explore other avenues as a result. I am also no longer to prepared to work extra hours like I have for years but what this has lead to is spiralling anxiety which I’m trying to work on from knowing that some things are not being done as timely as it should be for good practice and it’s naturally led to some balls being dropped but I’ve decided that self care and well-being comes first and work is not going to consume my life… I’ve experienced burnout previously resulting in several months off. I do not want to get back to that place.

It makes me really sad as when I started pre TR (2010) I genuinely loved the service and it felt like we were all encouraged to do our very best, the culture and training was organised well and there was a focus on continuous practice development.

I just can’t see how things are going to get better anytime soon.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

A Typical Day at the Office?

I notice that the ipaper published this a few weeks ago:-

‘I’m firefighting all the time’: 24 hours as a probation officer

Sarah Edwards, 35, worked as a probation officer from 2014 to 2020. In November 2020, she left her job and set up a coaching business to help people get into the probation industry. She also works part-time writing probation reports for courts to use during sentencing.

Edwards is the author of a book, Success on Probation: A Step By Step System to Reform Your Life. These 24 hours are based on her work as a probation officer from 2014 to 2020.


I wake up thinking about work. I already have a knot in my stomach and can’t stop thinking about all the things I need to do. I don’t have breakfast at home – I just go straight to the office. I’m anxious to get on with things.


The train journey takes about an hour. My worries about my job are always in the back of my mind, but I listen to music to help me switch off until I get in.


There aren’t many people in the office at that time, but I like to get there early. I have a cup of tea and check my emails. I heat up my porridge in the microwave.


I’m a morning person – it’s when I work best, so I start the day by writing up assessments – this is where probation officers assess the risk of serious harm by an offender and risk of reoffending and help manage the risks. I usually have about 40 cases at any one time, and they’re mainly high risk, which means they’re usually violent offences or sexual offences.

If they were to harm someone, the risk would be high. These cases are complex, because the people you’re dealing with have other issues like mental health, drug and alcohol issues, and problems with housing. The assessments are time-consuming and each one has a deadline.

The deadlines vary depending on the task and the specific case – it could be 10 days for some assessments, or three weeks for a court report.


I’m in the flow of writing up my assessments but I have to stop at 10am for an appointment with an offender. The people we work with might be on probation or in prison.

We chat about their current situation. In this appointment, the offender mentions that they have seen one of their co-defendants and they’re not supposed to. That means I have to check this information with other professionals involved, like the police, double-check their licence conditions, and decide what action to take, which varies depending on the situation but they might get a written warning, or put on a programme to help them change their behaviour.


After that, I write up my case notes. I prefer to do it straight away, otherwise, you can end up with a backlog and no time to get them done. The case notes are important because people need to see what’s happening day-to-day. After I’ve written up my notes, I update my to-do list with any actions I need to take.


I have another appointment with an offender, but they’re late. If someone on probation doesn’t turn up, there are consequences – if you have three absences, you’re supposed to start proceedings to send their case back to court. If someone is late, it creates another decision making process you have to go through. You think: “Is this a general pattern of theirs, or is it a one off? Have they contacted me to let me know?” Eventually, the offender turns up 30 minutes late.


I’m still writing up my case notes and I get a call from the police about a referral I asked for a week earlier. I have to stop what I’m doing and focus on that instead. Everything I’m working on has a chain reaction but you don’t know when that reaction is going to come. I don’t ever feel I have time to get organised and get on top of things. It feels like I’m just firefighting all the time.


I take half an hour for lunch, because I’d rather leave early than take a whole hour. There’s a kitchen where we can eat, but like most of my colleagues, I eat at my desk while I type up yet more case notes. Then I go for a 20-minute walk to get some fresh air.


I have to go to an inter-agency meeting, which is when different professionals meet to discuss a particular offender. This meeting is about someone who’s in supported housing and has been causing trouble. You have to go into these meetings really knowing your case because each professional is going to have their own agenda. For example, the housing officer’s priority is to prevent them becoming homeless and maintain housing standards, while a probation officer’s priorities are to prevent them reoffending and causing harm to anyone.

I meet with the housing officer and a police officer and we try to get to the bottom of what’s been going on. After the meeting, we each have a list of actions to take. I have to send over a risk assessment, so I add that to my to-do list.


One of the offenders I’m working with calls me. He’s an 18 year old who’s in prison for robbery, and it’s his first offence. I can tell he really values our conversations. He calls to tell me that he’s put on a musical performance in prison and been doing a chef’s course. While he’s been in prison, I’ve been speaking to him on the phone and writing to him. In these moments, I feel a lot of job satisfaction because I know that I’m making a difference to him.


I meet with a police officer and a staff member from the hostel where an offender is staying. He’s a 40-year-old man with autism who has committed sexual offences against young women. We’ve had reports that he’s been flashing people at bus stops and walking around his hostel and behaving inappropriately. When a person is going back to behaviours that led to the offence, you have to find out what’s going on. These are warning signs and we know that there’s a high likelihood he could be currently committing offences and not getting caught or that he’s about to.

I then go straight to meet another one of my cases, a domestic violence offender who also has alcohol issues. He works in construction and he hides behind his work a lot. He won’t really address his offending, and is quite difficult to work with.


I have another difficult appointment with an offender. A lot of times people get angry and start shouting at you. As a probation officer, you’re trying to build a relationship with the offender but you’re also trying to enforce the rules. But if they’ve seen you as quite friendly and then you enforce the rules, they think you’re turning against them. People are often derogatory.

In this meeting, the offender shouts at me, saying: “You can’t do your job properly” and “You’re just a little girl, you don’t know what you’re talking about”. You have to remain calm. I tell them that they express themselves but they can’t shout at me. This offender doesn’t listen, so I leave the room. We always sit closest to the door so we can leave in those situations. There’s an emergency buzzer if you’re ever worried for your safety.


I have a catch-up meeting with my manager. We mostly talk about if I’ve met my targets and my deadlines. There’s a target for every little thing, from putting equality and diversity information on the system, to making sure social services or police checks are done in a certain time frame. We spend about five minutes talking about how I am. As a probation officer, there isn’t a lot of time to carve out space to reflect on how the job is impacting you.

I leave work at about 5pm. Sometimes I have to stay for an appointment at 7pm or 8pm, if the offender is working and needs to have an appointment after work. When I finish for the day, my whole body feels drained. I’ve been on the go all day and writing assessments – it’s constant.


I get home and I feel irritable. My energy levels are depleted. The day was relentless and I wonder: When is this going to stop?

I make myself a quick dinner of chicken and rice. I don’t want to rely on ready meals or takeaways – I know that I need to eat healthily to help manage my stress.


Sometimes, I do taekwondo or yoga after work to help me let off steam, but tonight I just watch TV. I just want to numb out and switch off. I feel emotionally depleted and that affects my body as well.


At about 10pm, I make a conscious effort to switch off and go to bed. I’m thinking about work – I know that I’ve got a busy day again tomorrow and that I will need my energy. I have this dull feeling of dread in the background. I know that I’ve got to do it all over again tomorrow.


From Amazon:-

• Sarah Edwards has worked for Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service for 10 years. Up until November 2020 Sarah worked as a qualified Probation Officer working with offenders who have committed serious crimes.

• Sarah Edwards, Mum of 2 is the founder of Edwards Tutoring. A tutoring and coaching company for Psychology and Criminology Students. Sarah’s proven methods have helped many students not only with academic improvements but to help motivate them and find confidence in their abilities so they can excel in their academic goals and beyond.

• Being involved in projects that align with Sarah’s values and missions is central to Sarah’s ethos. Sarah is involved in the social policy-making initiative with ‘We are Telescope’ to contribute to work collaboratively with frontline workers and policy makers in public services. Sarah is specifically focusing her efforts on the Justice sector.

• Sarah Edwards is the author of “ Success on Probation: A Step By Step System To Reform Your Life And Release Yourself From Your Mental Jail” . Sarah has used her understanding and experience of rehabilitating offenders and translated this into how to change your own mindset, set goals and take action on your own life, particularly focused on the narrative of being a Mum to young children.