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.


  1. You're not alone! I've been in the service since TR and qualified for 6 years. The job is not what it used to be. It's more of a box ticking exercise. New SPOs just climbing the ranks and have become so distant with their PO roles and just focusing on targets than staff wellbeing. I'm already looking for a way out.

  2. I'm inclined to think that things are about to get even worse for probation as the year goes on.
    It's an election year, and usually that comes with the mantra of being tough on crime, and promises of apprehending and imprisoning more offenders.
    Unusually this election comes with a Conservative government releasing prisoners two months early, and limiting recall periods to 14 days.
    Still, they have to show that they 'are' being tough on crime which poses a difficult conundrum when there's no prison places left to lock people up.
    So where can they demonstrate how tough they are being on crime?
    If its not by imprisoning more, then the focus has to be on on how tough they're they are on those serving their sentence in the community and how being subject to probation supervision is not a soft option.
    I feel more then ever that probation is about to become even more consumed by prison service ethos, and become an extension of the penal system with its primary focus being solely punitive.

    As an aside Jim, you may be interested in last nights Newsnight if you haven't seen it already?


    1. I retired last year after 30 years and now do P/T PSR’s. I hated what probation had become and was glad, and sad, to go. I am now one of the people recommending interventions which will never be carried out!!

  3. I've left early too. Just couldnt bear it. I used to be so proud of being a Probation Officer, it became an embarrassment and an ethically compromising position. I believe passionately in what Probation can be, but right now it isnt that.

  4. I retired two years ago and was widely scorned by Probation Managers as being a "dinosaur" the mammals are quitting as well.

    1. I was called a 'stick in the mud' when I was advising my manager of my intention to take early retirement 4+ years ago! We both breathed a sigh of relief when I walked out of the door for the last time :) If I'd been a member of the 'clique' and a 'yes man' I may well still be employed by HMPPS. 'Appy days!

  5. It would be interesting know what % of frontline probation officers in the service have been qualified for 5+ years… freedom of information request??

  6. On The Origin Of Species

    "Individuals less suited to the environment are less likely to survive and less likely to reproduce; individuals more suited to the environment are more likely to survive and more likely to reproduce and leave their heritable traits to future generations, which produces the process of natural selection"

    But Darwin didn't anticipate the tories' manipulation of the environment.

    Thus in the case of probation (and other professions in the uk) "the environment" has been reimagined by politicians, thereby altering the "suitability" criteria of the "individuals", aka professional practitioners.

    The tories & their revisionistas have fucked the uk over in every imaginable way possible - physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse & neglect.

    Unfortunately it seems that Labour don't have any alternative vision beyond a diluted version of toryland.

    We really need a strong alternative based upon social cohesion, respect, fairness & a rejection of naked greed. Business, the economy & growth doesn't have to rely on 1% owning 90%. Plenty of ultra-wealthy people say they are willing to 'pay their way'.

    Similarly probation doesn't have to be the punitive social control model it has been turned into, i.e. a fast-track to certain imprisonment as opposed to a stepping stone to a different way of living.

  7. Speaking of toolkits and interventions a colleague said “you’re not actually doing them are you” in response to me saying how long a particular exercise took. He then said he just recorded that he’d done them “no one checks” and sees his people for “ten minutes max “ and lo and behold the other PO said he does exactly the same! It appears to be an open secret that absolutely no sentence plans are actually being delivered.

    1. Of course not! Noone has time to do that s*** and do you think it actually does anything. Group programmes are a joke too! If the probation service actually managed just the people who may get some benefit from it, it would not be worth tax payers keeping as a service. Just tag and track everyone and be done with it. That's all we are there for anyway-to minitor people. Let AI do it and save money!

  8. I qualified in January last year, I’m already looking for an out! Not had one supervision, management oversight if a case or touchpoint. My work management has been 130-149 “since qualifying to Dec 23” I don’t look at it anymore because, I know I’m behind. I know I’m failing, and I know I can’t keep up. I’ve been job searching since Jan, and 6 people who qualified with me have since left already…it’s like the system is purposefully being trashed to be replaced by - well I don’t know what, but probation will never be how it was before the split.

  9. What you reckon you’ll get job wise worth the pqip ? Retail ?

  10. To 22:35 please print off or take screen shots and keep, of your weekly workload stats. As a rep I have used these stats sometimes 2 years later for individuals accused of poor practice in SFO investigations. It may seem onerous but trust me the employer will not provide them so keep your evidence of deliberate over allocation, it may be needed in event of some accusation at a future date.

    1. Too true. Brilliant advice

  11. From Twitter:-

    "The entire Probation system is doing more harm than good. People aren't being supported, they are being assessed and recalled. New lives aren't being built, old lives are continually punished. Probation staff take credit for the work of charities and individual personal growth."

  12. From Twitter:-

    "Many years ago I worked for probation like you point out witnessed the changes which little by little turned it into something else /however there were people working hard to get offenders over that ever shifting line. It burns you out in the end but each of us made a difference."

    1. Thinking about how many frontline staff have been qualified for 5+ years I turned to Google.
      For me probation started down the wrong road with the introduction of NOMS, long before HMPPS and TR.
      Anyway, I found this article, (written by solicitors), that discusses the move from NOMS to HMPPS. It might be of interest as really it gives a flavour of just how long ago it is since probation first started to be funneled away from its original ethos and into the punitive world of prison.


    2. From NOMS to HMPPS
      For the last 13 years or so, the acronym ‘NOMS’ has meant very little to most prisoners and their representatives. They would probably recognise it as the faceless agency whose logo appears on letterheads or within email addresses. Many might struggle to identify what the initials stand for (answer – National Offender Management Service) or what it actually does.

      Yesterday the Secretary of State for Justice announced that NOMS would be abolished in April and would be replaced by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).

      According to the ‘What We Do’ section on their soon-to-be-disbanded website, NOMS:

      make sure people serve the sentences and orders handed out by courts, both in prisons and in the community.
      are accountable for how prisons are run in England and Wales and manage public sector prisons in England and Wales (through HM Prisons Service).
      oversee probation delivery in England and Wales through the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies.
      are responsible for the running of prison and probation services and rehabilitation services for prisoners leaving prison,
      make sure support is available to stop people offending again
      contract manage private sector prisons and services such as the Prisoner Escort Service and electronic tagging

      NOMS’ timeline
      It is instructive to look at what exactly NOMS has presided over. Lord Carter, whose 2003 review prompted its creation, emphasised the need for end to end management. It was his view that there was no consistency of supervision throughout a person’s sentence. His recommendation of a joined-up management service made complete sense but many would view the reality as having been a complete failure. The prison end of this management revolution has seen massive population growth, record suicide levels and widespread disturbances and protests. The Probation end has seen a chaotic part-privatisation, prisoners having no meaningful relationship with a succession of different Offender Managers and Offender Supervisors and recalls to prison increase by an eye watering 4300%. A substantial amount of the work of prison lawyers revolves around trying to undo or mitigate the harm done by this.

      The Carter Review spoke of credible and rigorous sentences, both bywords for a tough on crime approach. The astronomical recall rates do not bear any meaningful link to this aim. The commission of crime is often not the reason for recall. The reasons are very often trivial but recalls take far too long to unravel and create significant resource problems.

      So what has NOMS ever done for us? Should the Pythons wish to revive their sketch choosing NOMS, rather than the Romans as their subject material, it would be a lot shorter, and desperately unfunny. Behind the scenes, those at Petty France would no doubt argue that NOMS made decisions which have had a profound effect on the way offenders are managed. One thing prisoners will have noticed since the arrival of NOMS is that they have become labelled as offenders and their ‘Probation Officers’ have become labelled as Offender Managers. The Offender Supervisor has been a new innovation under the NOMS regime; it can refer to a qualified Probation Officer located within prisons but can also be a prison officer with some in-house training.

    3. Accountability
      Most Parole Board Members would confirm that the evidence given by offender supervisors is often of dubious quality. They will also have noticed that Offender Managers have often not met the prisoners about whom they are writing crucial reports. The holy grail of seamless management between prison and the community is no nearer than it was 13 years ago. Responsibility for this must at least in part fall at the feet of NOMS.

      However the succession of Home Secretaries and Justice Secretaries who have made decisions (or have failed to make decisions) which have created the world in which NOMS has had to operate cannot absolve themselves of blame by directing it at NOMS. Policy and funding decisions have been made which have had a disastrous impact on the Prison and Probation Service. The main fall-guy for this should have been the current Secretary of State for Transport.

      For the purposes of litigation, it is the person or organisation at the top who is liable for unlawful decisions. It is the Secretary of State for Justice (or occasionally the Governor of a prison or the National Probation Service) who is legally accountable for wrongdoing. Judicial review claims or civil actions are not brought against NOMS nor will be they be brought against HMPPS in the future.

      Accountability for policy-making and decisions is crucial. Management is important but so is the direction from above, including the language which is used. The announcement of the new HMPPS was dominated by the language of security, extremism and gangs. There is no mention of compassion, dignity or the goal of safe population reduction. Lord Carter’s better known fellow prison reformer, Lord Woolf, wrote the foreword to a paper in 2014 written by six of the country’s leading experts on prisons. The paper’s title is self explanatory: A Presumption against Imprisonment. Measures introduced by successive Justice Secretaries reveal an ideological unwillingness to embrace that presumption and the prison system will continue to pay the price for that, no matter what the management service is called.

    4. Lessons from the past
      The announcement reveals problems beyond language. Our own Lisa Burton, herself a former prison officer, recalls NOMS’ predecessor announcing a new leadership programme, an idea which has been recycled for the formation of HMPPS. The uptake was, to paraphrase her, very poor. The officers who did apply would simply copy each others’ portfolios to pass. Assessors were from a remote head office with no idea what it was like to work on a wing.

      The new leadership programme which is trailed in the announcement could easily be plagued by the same troubles as its similar predecessor. The old ‘new’ leadership programme enabled graduates to join and become governors within months. It was unpopular with experienced officers who had spent 10-20 years in the prison and resented being bossed around by graduates who had only done a short period as an officer before moving up the ranks. There have been several governors that came through on this scheme and were not able to command respect from staff of prisoners.

      ‘Enhanced qualifications’ for probation officers are promised with the advent of the new HMPPS. What does this mean? Does it mean that Offender Supervisors in prisons (probably be renamed as something similar to ‘Seconded Probation Officers’) will receive far more extensive training? Probation officers in the community already complete a degree. Is that to be replaced by a new, improved degree?

      The announcement promises higher pay and recognition for specialist skilled officers dealing with complex issues such as counter-terrorism, suicide and self-harm support. A version of this is already in place, negotiators get higher rates when on call as do staff dealing with constant watches for suicide risks. Most specialisms actually already get more money. If this is really to be enhanced so that more highly skilled staff doing very difficult jobs are properly remunerated then that is to be welcomed.

      The one genuinely new and long overdue announcement is for a Board Director with specific responsibility for women across the whole system. This is likely to go down badly with the likes of Phillip Davies MP but most will welcome the appointment of someone who is able to understand the different needs of women within the criminal justice and penal systems and to plan accordingly. Ten years have been squandered since the Corston Report made many sensible recommendations about the reconfiguration of the female prison estate. Reform has been conducted at a snail’s pace and the new Board Director will need to rectify this quickly.

      There is no announcement of a Board Director with specific responsibility for people with mental health problems and learning disabilities across the whole system. This is a serious omission and a missed opportunity.

      Lipstick on a Pig?
      The one thing people will look for from HMPPS is real change from the failed years of NOMS. The first signs are ominous. The announcement trumpeting the arrival of HMPPS included a quote from the HMPPS Chief Executive, Michael Spurr. This is the same Michael Spurr who is currently the NOMS Chief Executive. He appears to be a decent-enough chap but what kind of sign does it send out that a brand new organisation has exactly the same leader as the one it is replacing? In the words of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again – “ the new boss – same as the old boss…”

      Names matter a little bit. What organisations do matters far more. Putting lipstick on a pig does not disguise the fact that it is still a pig.

  13. For any Senior Managers who are listening - more lyrics from The Who...
    "The change it had to come, we knew it all along"

  14. Having joined the service before TR, I found fulfilment in my role as a Probation Officer. After all I did not join the service to make a lot of money but to make a difference to service users (now known as POPs) and society in general. Despite the challenges that came with TR and the pandemic, I persevered and survived. However, the most difficult time came after the establishment of the new Probation Service on 26 June 2021. After two years of trying to adjust, I ran of steam and ultimately made the tough decision to resign from the service. I miss being a Probation Officer but I am happy with decision I have made. My advice to anyone who is struggling is to leave if possible. You will not regret it.