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.

75 comments:

  1. Dissonance in the otherwise positive-sounding blog post leaves me confused:

    * I do try to advise, assist and befriend. - Good.

    * I don’t disrespect them - Good

    But:

    * all had a moment in their week to be “normal”

    * I want Pops to learn from me

    Perhaps its semantics?

    "Normal"? For who?

    The term 'Pops' doesn't feel respectful; it sounds childish, demeaning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What is the full meaning of learn?

      : to gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience.

      Yes learn from me, learn from your probation officer. This is what we do, we try to advise, help and guide Pops to do better.

      Don’t commit crime, this is why.
      Don’t take drugs, this is where you can get help.
      Don’t beat your partner, this is what a good relationship could be.
      Get a job, a home, become independent, this is what you want.
      If you can’t, it’s a good idea to attend the employment or housing appointments arranged for you.
      If you’re doing all this already, keep doing it, let’s review it together.
      If you’re aspiring to do a lot more, then do so, let’s make a plan together.
      If it all goes wrong, and sometimes it does, let’s start again together and learn from our mistakes.

      For me, this is probation work.

      Delete
    2. "learn from me, learn from your probation officer" ?

      I don't think so.

      Learning is not a process of being given something, its a process in & of itself. Its in the gift of the 'learner' to learn. Advise & assist is fine, but probation staff are not enforcers of societal norms.

      Delete
    3. Anon 18:51 I don’t think you understand the definition of learning.

      Delete
    4. You'll be completely right, of course, 18:03. Silly me!

      More of my misunderstandings in a probation setting include:

      Learning is not having someone in a position of authority dictate what you 'should' be doing.

      Definition: "Learning is a relatively lasting change in behavior that is the result of experience. It is the acquisition of information, knowledge, and skills."

      Learning is NOT having a probation officer - regardless of age, gender, class, ethnicity, religion or any other characteristic - lecture on morality or lifestyle while using recall or similar sanction as the 'big stick' to "beat sense into 'em".

      Delete
    5. This is a really respectable statement. I don’t know why people here have problems with that. It be great to have a probation officer that wants to teach me things but while trying to learn from me too.

      “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.”

      Delete
    6. ‘It is the acquisition of information, knowledge, and skills”, which we also impart as probation officers, programme facilitators, prison officers…! Probably you don’t 18:55 as too busy with your accusations, capitals and big stick, but I do and many of my colleagues do too.

      Delete
    7. Devotees of the govt's social engineering experiment are clearly thriving in today's probation service.

      Delete
    8. I wouldn’t know. I just see probation staff trying to help, guide and support offenders the best they can.

      Delete
  2. Pops is an awful term. I refuse to use it or PP.

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    Replies

    1. Then don’t use it.

      Pops, service users, clients, offenders, none of these words are accurate. Mainly we call Pops by their names, but sometimes we need a term when referring to them as a group. It changes every few years, currently it is People on probation (Pop).

      I am a Probation Officer and don’t agree with Pp, Om, Ro, Com either, but these are the terms we’ve been given.

      Delete
    2. I was a Probation Officer. I never managed anybodies offending. What l did try to do was encourage their desistance. If you wanted to give me a stupid title call me a "Desistance Manager".

      Delete
    3. Not at all sure what your point is. I said I hate those terms and I won’t use them. You seem to agree but with a helping of passive aggression

      Delete
    4. People is plural for person therefore PoPs is inaccurate. It was made as a joke by HQ to amuse senior leaders. Use it and the joke is on you. Terrible acronym used by those keen to jump on the latest bandwagon.

      Delete
    5. We haven’t used the term PoPs in GM for well over a year. Acronyms come and go. Staff don’t mean to use terms in a discriminatory manner. Let’s not be guilty of overthinking this. I use clients/service users/cases/first name etc but we all know what we mean. What matters is the level of respect shown to the individuals in question (and their victims of course) rather than what they are referred to.

      Delete
    6. Anon 19:57. Just cos people disagree with you didn’t mean they’re “passive aggressive”. The original post refers to the probation this poses.

      “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.”

      Delete
    7. From Twitter:-

      "Odd take - assumption that HQ &/or senior leaders are Machiavellian characters, making up acronyms to piss everyone off. PoP came from trying to avoid both the left and the right - neither ‘service user’ nor ‘offender’; shortening to acronym for slide packs& docs. Not nefarious."

      Delete
  3. Probation has adopted a punitive approach and its destructive. It's a million miles away from being the gold standard service it once enjoyed being.
    That's not because of Chris Grayling or TR, it's because of the punitive culture thats grown within probation. Change doesn't come with enforcement, it grows with encouragement support and nurture.
    Far from being a friend to those on supervision, probation has become the enemy.
    Interestingly, the prison inspectorate has this week praised a number of prisons for creating a positive culture within their regimes.
    Maybe probation could cast an eye in that direction?

    https://insidetime.org/newsround/inspectors-praise-prisons-with-positive-cultures/

    'Getafix

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Inspectors praise prisons with ‘positive cultures’

      In a new report called ‘Improving Behaviour In Prisons’, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) examines what it describes as a “small number of prisons” providing “positive cultures” that keep people safe whilst ensuring that those inside have the chance to take part in employment and education that will help them find jobs upon release. Other jails are encouraged to follow suit.

      Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, writes in an introduction: “We know how difficult it is for staff to do their job when they spend too much time managing disruptive behaviour or worrying about being assaulted. The prisons we visited are not perfect, but offer the kind of regimes we rarely see.”

      The report studied eight prisons, finding common features. Each set clear rules, promoting “reward rather than punishment”. The report gives examples such as offering extended family visits or moves to better wings. It highlights Drake Hall’s Halfords workshop, which is popular with the women, offering chances of well-paid employment on release. HMIP demonstrates how peer worker roles give prisoners responsibility, helping them develop confidence whilst encouraging positive behaviour.

      They interviewed prisoners, with one in Oakwood saying: “I can do barbering when I’m released, I’m enjoying that. I was in a bad mindset ‘coz I had nothing to lose, but now have been given opportunities. I’m not going to sacrifice that.” Another explained the value peer worker roles provide: “I never worked a day in my life outside, never wanted to go for a job interview. Now, I’m confident I could.”

      All eight jails demonstrated clear communication, some governors being visible on wings and knowing prisoners by name to create “respectful relationships”. Some provided work in gardens, offering positive relaxation, or created murals giving feelings of personal achievement. The report states: “These are challenging times in prisons, with rising drugs, violence, self-harm, overcrowding, squalid conditions. Reoffending rates remain high, almost 37 per cent, the proportion of prisoners recalled is 13 per cent higher than a year ago. Amidst these pressures, most prisons struggle to provide activities to reduce the likelihood people will end up back inside.”

      The prisons involved were: Oakwood, praised for developing community spirit; Warren Hill, with positive management; Rye Hill, for clear rules; Buckley Hall, for control of behaviour; Swansea, for positive culture; Full Sutton, for incentivising good behaviour; Drake Hall, for training; and Holme House, whose d├ęcor has been imaginatively transformed.

      Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, commented: “At a time when the picture in prisons is especially bleak, it is good to remember some truly impressive work is done in difficult circumstances”. Pia Sinha, chief executive of the Prison Reform Trust, added: “This shows that even in the most complex places, strong visible leadership is an antidote to the most entrenched problems.”

      Taylor concluded: “There is no magic wand to remove the pressure of rising populations, failing infrastructure and a dearth of experienced staff, and we’ve been calling for a serious conversation about who we send to prison, for how long and what we want to happen to reduce reoffending. We hope our report inspires prison leaders to see what can be achieved.”

      Delete
    2. But this is simply because prisons have been setting aside staff to focus on real support and rehabilitation work. Similar to how the police now put aside officers for this type of work both at the police station and in conjunction with IOM. It’s fine and dandy if that’s all your job role is, and HMIP are shites to omit that probation used to do all this and still should.

      This is what probation officers used to do when we had staff. They took this time and ethos away from us when they ramped up caseloads and forced an increasing wave of processes, assessments and NSIs down our throats which now overtake our time and ability to just sit and help people.

      Delete
  4. Did you not get any pressure from the new wave of business managers/total fukwitts who know nothing about probation to enforce the absences etc ? I presume some of the absentees may have done it twice before ?
    If not cherish the fact you were able to use your own judgement at this time as u won't for much longer

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, I get those reminder emails on a daily basis. I hold them at bay until I’ve made a decision. My SPO works well on this, we’re “creative”, although I think both our necks will soon be on the chopping block!!!

      Delete
  5. Please stop using the acronym pops. It’s disrespectful and dehumanising.

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    Replies
    1. But so is offender (don’t label me I’m not committing crime today), cellmate (the guy in the other bed isn’t my mate), Person in prison - Pip (I’m not a seed), Person on probation - Pop (I am a person on probation but don’t define me by being on probation and I’m not a bang or a dad), client (this is not voluntary mate), Service user (what service?) …

      No terms or acronyms in use are ideal. Try to understand the blog post instead of picking up on one word which was probably used as the post was from a comment intended for probation workers.

      Delete
    2. Anon at 10:42 There probably is no ideal label, but 'client' served us very well for many years, is neutral and the mess we're in now is entirely the politicians doing.

      Delete
    3. I used to use ‘Client’ and ‘Probation client’ until they drummed it out of us. It is the best term to use, I remember them actively gatekeeping it out of every report and practice document. I also liked Probationer too but it never really took off.

      Delete
    4. “Please stop using the acronym pops. It’s disrespectful and dehumanising.”

      I don’t like the term either, it’s a weird one, just like Service user (Su), PP and Com. But to say “disrespectful and dehumanising”, that’s taking it a tad too far.

      Dehumanising is breaching and recalling someone for turning up 15 minutes late, smoking a bit of weed or calling their PO an arrogant insensitive ‘C U Next Tuesday because they think constantly talking about risk levels, why a minor offence committed over a year ago or how a pair of Nike Air Max were purchased is ‘professional curiosity’, then sending them to a rodent and cockroach infested prison for 14 days where they’re likely to be starved, abused and mistreated, to then released homeless with no money, to again come in front of that PO who will still be arrogant and insensitive at best

      Too many probation officers worrying about the smaller picture instead of the bigger one and what really matters.

      Delete
    5. I know this may spark a tirade but I really find it difficult to have the word C**T used at me, it is misogynistic and it upsets me. Oh, and yes I’m a female PO.

      Delete
    6. Me neither, but I selfishly put myself aside for a whole second and thought about the poignancy of this point instead.

      “sending them to a rodent and cockroach infested prison for 14 days where they’re likely to be starved, abused and mistreated, to then released homeless with no money”

      Delete
    7. This may well spark a counter tirade from you....but in my opinion all probation officers find having that word used against them "difficult" irrespective of their gender. Oh and yes, I'm a male PO

      Delete
    8. But surely the link to being female and THAT word is not lost on you?

      Delete
    9. 17:27 think your male colleague just mansplained that! Yes the impact on female staff is different.

      Delete
    10. No it isn’t.

      Delete
    11. 17:27 and 22:02 - of COURSE the link to being female and the different impact onto women is not lost on me - that is PRECISELY why my comment at 22:04 I is purposefully sarcastic and ironic. The point being that we don't need it explained, pointed out and emphasised every time the word is used and patronisingly told it is "misogynistic". The irony of you, 22:02, casually dropping in the word "mansplain" when you are trying to take the moral high ground about words used against women, is frankly shocking.

      There's a thread below about the pros and cons of probation being dominated by middle class females, working with predominantly men - the fact you feel you have to point out that word is "misogynistic" , asking if we understand the connotations of that word, and casually drop in the word mansplain in response to an obviously sarcastic post, frankly demonstrates why people have concerns, particularly when your comments were made within another thread that was meant to be about the dehumanising effects of labels used to describe the people we work with.

      Delete
  6. From Twitter:-

    "The weirdest thing about probation from a service user perspective is that it's pure luck as to if you are assigned a supportive, rehabilitation focused OM or if you are assigned a vindictive tick-box OM who can't juggle their workload. It's a recall lottery based on personality."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a probation officer I can vouch that this is very true. You’ve had it if you get a probation officer that can’t manage their time, is always off sick, has lost interest in probation work, sees every newly allocated case as a burden, or is just a horrible, oppressive, bullying, power abusing nutcase. There’s quite a lot of those too.

      People here always go on about the fresh face female graduates with no experience of the real world, but these can sometimes be the most committed and principled individuals you could get as a probation officer.

      Delete
    2. How Russel Webster did it (from 2012).

      https://www.russellwebster.com/how-to-be-a-good-probation-officer/

      'Getafix

      Delete
    3. Oh yes I remember - Zoe Staffs GMPT - we covered her series - blimey 2012!

      Delete
  7. In fairness and probably because of the awful Early Release Scheme, our PDU is being a lot more considered and nuanced around making decisions to recall or not recall offenders. The fact that prisons and POMs are doing next to nothing around addressing offending and, in terms of some parity, should be mandated to do so, even with early release cases, means that the onus remains squarely that of the overworked community PO. Apparently an early release case cannot be refused if there is no housing and the individual has a history of exhibiting a chaotic lifestyle. It's the community probation officer's 'fault' for having so much work to do. Until there is some equity between prisons and probation, we remain the punchbag for a target-driven culture and a mismanaged prison system. No wonder so many of us see our name in lights and it says, 'exit'. Why do prisons have pre-release departments and resettlement staff- it can't be beyond the wit of man to utilise these facilities to do pre-release work? Prisons have access to the internet. They can pick up a phone, email, cross reference addresses, undertake research even if they're not in the prison's immediate area. That's the beauty of the internet- it's boundless. This arms-folded, it's not my job, guv, stance is incredibly unhelpful and neither are the divisions created because of it.

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    Replies
    1. The early release scheme is a good thing. If I was locked up in prison I’d gladly be released early. I wouldn’t want some trumped up probation officer who’s never spent a day in a cell behind bar playing Russian roulette with my release date. The problem with Ecsl is it’s badly managed and not resourced. There should be resettlement teams in prison making it work and the government should be forced to put aside funds for housing and fast-tracked interim benefits for every early release.

      Delete
    2. If probation were not so trigger happy with recalling people to prison they would not be overcrowded and would not need an early release scheme.

      Delete
    3. If an 18 day early release scheme is needed then the courts should make each of the thousands sentenced to prison each year 18 days shorter.

      Another ‘if’ is if the Courts didn’t have 50,000 or so prisoners every year on remand awaiting trial and sentence that’d be 50,000 more prison places too.

      The amount of people recalled are tiny in comparison. Stop blaming probation for the prison crisis, it’s nothing to do with us.

      Delete
    4. The overall population who have been recalled to custody (9,798 prisoners) has increased by 7% relative to the total a year earlier. This is the highest monthly figure since at least 2002.

      Delete
    5. Like I said, stop blaming probation and recalls. Tell the courts to sort out remand times and stop sending non-violent crimes to prison.

      People on remand

      For many people, their first experience of prison is on remand. This might be ahead of their trial, or whilst they are awaiting sentencing having been found guilty.

      People remanded to custody to await trial are innocent until proven guilty. 40,424 people were sent to prison before their trial in 2022, an increase of almost 13% compared with 2021. 28

      On 31 March 2023 there were 14,591 people in prison on remand, a rise of almost a half (45%) in just three years, and is currently at a near record level. 29

      People on remand currently make up more than one in seven people in prison (17%). Around twothirds are awaiting trial (67%), whilst the rest await sentencing. 30

      Almost half (49%) of all people who entered prison on remand to await trial in 2022 were31 accused of non-violent offences—18% for drug offences and 11% for summary non-motoring offences.

      Almost a third (32%) of people on remand, 4,582 people, have been there32 for longer than six months. More than one in 20 (5%) have been there for two years or more (770 people).

      One in 10 people (10%) remanded into custody by the magistrates’ courts in 2022 were subsequently acquitted. A further 11% of people received a non-custodial sentence. In the Crown Court, the figures were 14% and 16%, respectively.33

      Black men are 26%, and men with a mixed ethnic background are 22% more likely to be remanded in custody at the Crown Court than white men. 34

      More than third (35%) of self-inflicted deaths in 2022 involved people held on remand—far higher than the proportion of the prison population they represent (17%).35

      Almost half (45%) of children in custody are on remand. 36

      More than a third (35%) of children remanded into custody in the year to March 2022 were subsequently acquitted—a further two in five (38%) were given a non-custodial sentence. 37

      https://prisonreformtrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/prison_the_facts_2023.pdf

      Delete
    6. Always someone else's fault eh?

      Delete
    7. This is why you should have remand only prisons.

      Delete
    8. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/prison-staff-taxi-bus-hotels-england-crisis-b2530257.html

      Delete
  8. Anyway it’s a pointless discussion as we all know the answer is to abolish short term sentences and increase community sentences. What is the point of sentencing someone to prison for 6 months, the release date will be in 3 months, after adding early release ECSL they’ll be out in 2 months, even less if eligible for a tag.

    Get rid of sentences under 6 months, this will reduce prison numbers and cut PSS by half. Then resource the probation service who will be able to give proper support.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Pops" is yet another name in a long line of moronic names thought up by Probation Managers. The term doesn't even make sense within it's own terms as people having Presentence Reports written about them are also called "Pops". Those individuals aren't actually on Probation yet so would need to be called by a different name but staggeringly this hadn't been considered by our Excellent Leaders who know many many things and have knowledge that their underlings can only dream of.

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  10. The answer is simple……a fully resourced Probation Service oh and really must change the senior management team, they are substantially responsible for this utter mess.

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  11. I agree with 18:28, if our Senior Probation Managers were in private industry or any well functioning Public Service they would have been sacked years ago! They have no leadership skills, no ideas, and no idea how to fix Probation other than by continuing to bully and blame the frontline Workers for the mess that the Leadership themselves have created.

    ReplyDelete
  12. From a lawyer on Twitter:-

    "I recently said to a probation officer that a client didn’t feel like they were getting much assistance or support; I was very curtly told that that wasn’t their job and that their role was to protect the public - they, apparently, didn’t see the disconnect."

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    Replies
    1. No the lawyer doesn’t realise that probation officers have long been forcibly disconnected from doing probation work. Most of us came into the job to help and support people released from prison and on probation. What we got was ‘risk management and public protection’ shoved down our throats.

      Delete
  13. hmpps annexing others' long-established acronyms is confusing & disrespectful:

    https://www.partnersofprisoners.co.uk/who-partners-of-prisoners-are/pops-history/

    For the many other hmpps mind-bending acronyms, here's @HMIProbation's eight page ready reckoner:

    https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2021/12/Probation-inspection-glossary-of-terms-v1.3.pdf

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. POPS began as a peer support group for prisoners’ families set up by Farida Anderson MBE in 1988, who was herself supporting her partner through a custodial sentence. Recognising that there was no formal support for prisoners’ relatives, POPS was established to help families cope with the stress, isolation and stigma of being labelled ‘GUILTY by association’.

      Delete
  14. From Twitter:-

    "Writing an ISP and so much focus on "words we can't use anymore" why is our language being policed so much? Surely our actions and interventions are more important, but they (the powers that be) care so much less about that!"

    ReplyDelete
  15. From Twitter:-

    "If you give too much power (e.g., recall for minor licence breaches) to white, middle class females of average intelligence, hence the one-dimensional, cognitively rigid approach to understanding working class crime/ life issues, then its always going to go that way."

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    Replies
    1. How much prejudicial thinking in one sentence???

      Delete
    2. I think he or she is spot on and that group have pervaded the management hence the destroyed valueless service we had is gone. There are some.unqualified.acos in certain parts and they are not unlike the SS.

      Delete
    3. But if you really analyse the probation workforce, there a significant amount of power (e.g., sentence proposals, release recommendations, recall, breaches) in the hands of a majority of white, middle class females. There is also a one-dimensional, cognitively rigid (and sometimes biased) approach from them in understanding working class crime/ life issues. This is probably worse in areas where people in prison and on probation are disproportionately black and brown.

      Delete
    4. What is the evidence 22:14 ( rather than observation perhaps in a single team, or perhaps prejudice) for “white middle class females” please? I’m a female PO who perhaps could be judged that way and would never disclose that my aunt and cousin were working girls, father had a conviction for violence ( deceased, so no impact on my vetting) terrible domestic abuse and family poverty in my background, you get the point? All of that informs my ethics and values but go on dismiss me as not understanding working class life. Stop stereotyping for God’s sake, I deserve my place in probation and should not have to be validated by you.

      Delete
    5. I would guess that 16:09 is an outlier, one of the rarities that make it.

      When part of the TPO selection process I fought tooth & nail for the enrolment of two very impressive women who had clearly evidenced life experiences that did not sit comfortably with the senior management team. I watched as those managers blatantly 'adjusted' the scoring matrix to exclude them. I (& another brave soul) challenged their behaviour & the two women were taken on for training. Both worked hard & struggled with others' prejudices & bigotry during training, but both went on to become excellent officers.

      When TR reared its ugly head, both were syphoned off to the CRC option by the same bigoted arseholes who tried to prevent them ever becoming part of the probation family.

      Delete
    6. “Outlier” ….. well thanks for that! Leave your female colleagues alone, stop stereotyping, stop judging, stop blaming, the state of Probation is not their fault. What is going on here?

      Delete
  16. Who should the power be given to then in your not so humble opinion?

    ReplyDelete
  17. When you give someone "power" they assume an unearned right to weild it as they see fit.
    Better I feel to give them "tools" and "ability" within a structured context where the need to exercise "power" isn't required.

    'Getafix

    ReplyDelete
  18. From Twitter:-

    "If mine get rolled back for language I refuse to re-do them. I also challenge the petty stuff that I as an officer know and they as SPOs who are as far removed from front line don’t. Ultimately if there’s an SFO they’ve not got your back anyway so may as well make it your own."

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  19. "rolled back for language"? Have I got that right? There are people being paid a probation salary to check that POs and PSOs are using the approved words and accronyms even if the meaning is a clear as daylight? If that really is the case then things, specifically priorities, are very badly awry in a service that is desperately short of frontline staff.
    Its been a while since I was in a probation office so I am just going to close my eyes and imagine... The happless PO typed "client" into her delius record. The newly commissioned digitised Quality Monitoring Function set off a klaxon alerting all staff to be at their keyboards for an emergency records cleansing drill, leaving one duty officer to check in and out the packed waiting room, using cut and paste to ensure each attendance was entered in the approved phrases.

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    1. https://www.speaktolead.co.uk/why-acronyms-are-effective-communication-worst-enemy/

      'Getafix

      Delete
    2. Why acronyms are effective communication worst enemy

      Over the past few years, I became increasingly annoyed over the use of acronyms in my organisation. I am far from the only person out there which hates acronyms, and Elon Musk’s 2010 email regarding acronyms in SpaceX resonates very strongly with me.

      “Excessive use of made-up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication and keeping communication good as we grow is incredibly important.”

      My own experience matches exactly the feelings expressed in this email. Acronyms are a poor way of communicating, are counterproductive and do far more harm than good. Here is why.

      Acronyms are not inclusive
      This is a huge issue, especially in diverse organisations whose churn is high, with new members and leaders coming in all the time. I lost count of the number of times when acronyms mentioned during training sessions without any explanation. The presenter just assumes that the acronym’s meaning is known because we all belong to the same organisation. Of course, nobody dares to question what the acronyms mean for fear of embarrassment or appearing ignorant in front of senior trainers. This can result in essential concepts not being explored as much as they could be and in people not understanding some basics. Congratulations, by using acronyms you may be putting off people who need training the most!

      Another barrier created by acronyms, is newer people unable to join conversations with more established members or leaders. Someone listening to an acronym laden conversation could be forgiven for wondering where they landed, or even worse, for wondering if they had joined some kind of cult. Something else that I remarked over the years, is that tolerating acronyms leads to a propensity to create more acronyms. This even leads to different parts of an organisation using different acronyms to describe the same concept. The nuclear industry in which I previously worked is especially guilty of this, and so is Toastmasters.

      Acronyms make communication more difficult
      While acronyms can in theory save time and make it easier to pass on information, the reality often differs from theory by a large margin. The best example is the way we use the acronym TLI in my organisation. We may for example say – “come to the TLI next Saturday, it will be an interesting event!” Notice how this sentence does not explain what a TLI is, what may happen and why people should consider attending. TLI means Toastmasters Leadership Institute. Here, not using the acronym makes it easier to understand what the event is about and additionally provides a reason why people should attend. Namely, that this is an institute about leadership and they will be learning about how to become a better leader.

      It is fascinating to read that scientific literature does support the point that acronyms hamper communication. Nevertheless, and against all common sense; acronym use is growing worldwide spurred on by the growth of new fields and disciplines. Not knowing what an acronym means creates frustrations, misunderstandings and extra time spent researching the acronyms’ possible meanings. Using them in written documents or slides may help to a degree as long as they are explained first. But using them when delivering a speech, is a guaranteed way to lose the attention and focus of parts of your audience.

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    3. What can you do about this?
      Not using acronyms and making a habit of not doing so is a great start. The next time you use an acronym, ask yourself if you need to use it and if others would understand its meaning. Keeping things simple and jargon-free is better than attempting to save time by using an acronym that nobody understands. Not making up new acronyms in the first place is another simple way of not feeding the alphabet soup. Restricting acronyms to written documents only (and even there, use them sparingly), is another simple action that can avoid them creeping out in conversations.

      Effective leadership and effective communication go hand in hand. My task to leaders seeking to break down barriers inside their organisations. Is to proactively challenge acronym use and to the one that asks the question that more junior people may be too afraid to ask.

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    4. Sorry but the single biggest barrier to effective communication is having leaders ignorant of the current day job

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  20. Surely the only acronym that our excellent leaders use these days is JFDI?

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  21. I recall having the same discussions about acronyms when I was training. We started to discuss how we could communicate more effectively as socialist probation officers eager to grapple with the twin evils of capitalism and professionalisation. Both system geared towards alienating the “other”. Designed as they were to exploit and dispossess those without power. Needless to say little changed…and that was in 1986. A few days later we had a discussion about how to deal with cynical colleagues or dinosaurs. Those officers who would roll their eyes and say they have seen it all before and nothing changed and this new idea wasn’t that new as it had been tried 20 years ago when they first started….turns out they were right after all.

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  22. 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.”

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  23. … and I know it’s a bit radical in 2024, but I just call probation clients by their names and myself a probation officer.

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