Sunday 26 May 2024

A Pipe Dream?

Following on from the BBC Panorama AP programme, thanks go to the reader for contributing the following yesterday:-

The Panorama programme was carefully edited to show the worst of AP life. As others have said, they showed none of the rehabilitative work or reflective practice that is routine in a PIPE AP. Fleming House is one of the bigger hostels, so will have a Deputy Manager and a psychologist working there. However like all other APs, only 2 RWs working all night, trying to get curfews recorded, handovers updated, medication given out and the million little jobs that need doing. Yes, one of the residents didn't sign for his 7pm curfew, but he was in the AP, his whereabouts were known. (I'm not condoning him signing for him, but it could have been worse).

The AP manager didn't send off the tablets for testing. This is a new process, previously they would just have been disposed of. They would only really need testing if the resident was being prosecuted for them or if it was needed for proof for a recall. The programme also failed to mention the full span of control an AP manager has - all referrals, allocations, supervision of all staff, building manager, health and safety lead are just the tip of the iceberg. No workload measurement tool in APs. Oh and don't forget on call, where they may have to do a 12 hour night shift after a day's work.

The institutional appearance of the AP, along with the worst Facilities Management contract ever, means most AP buildings are unfit for purpose so staff work extra hard to make a residents stay as good as it can be. 

It's normal to let off steam in the office - no one expects to be recorded. AP staff work really hard. Where else would someone work a 12 hour shift without an official break? Men on 6 man lockdown in custody are brought to the door and left with 2 staff without a thought.

We aren't mental health practitioners but deal with residents that have serious diagnoses linked to risk. Then there's drug and alcohol testing. Vital for our duty of care, especially when giving out medication, but they stopped the instant mouth swab tests in favour of more expensive, more reliable urine tests, where you wait a week for the results. Now we can't even use those regularly due to the cost.

I could go on talking about the issues but I want to say that an AP is also one of the best places to work. You can spend meaningful time with residents and get to know some of them. Some residents have never had anyone who asked about their day or to share advice with. PPs are too busy and overworked to have time to get to know them properly and we can share valuable insights - both good and bad.

Despite everything I am proud to work at an AP and my colleagues feel the same. We may be the forgotten part of the service but that doesn't mean we don't perform our roles to our best ability.


Now we know the subject of the Panorama programme is a PIPE - and I have to say I hate this fetish civil servants have with giving everything stupid acronyms - we need to say something about them. This from Prison Reform Trust published by InsideTime is a good summary:-

We get regular calls asking us for information about ‘PIPE’ units, often after the possibility of a referral has come up in discussion with staff. PIPEs, which stands for ‘Psychologically Informed Planned Environments’, are residential environments which are specifically designed to support the progression of people with complex needs and personality related difficulties. They are part of the Offender Personality Disorder Pathway (OPDP) which is a connected set of interventions for people who are likely to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of personality disorder. It is important to note that a diagnosis of personality disorder is not required to be considered eligible for referral to a PIPE.

PIPEs are designed to have a focus on the environment in which they operate; recognising the importance and quality of relationships and interactions. They aim to maximise ordinary situations and to approach these in a psychologically informed way, paying attention to interpersonal difficulties, such as those issues that might be linked to personality disorder. Overall, PIPEs aim to improve the psychological health of participants, improve participants’ quality of relationships and relationship skills, and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

The PIPE model incorporates some core components which are designed to support and develop individuals living and working within them. Staff working in a PIPE have additional training and clinical supervision to give them a better psychological understanding of their work. This understanding helps them to create a safer and more supportive environment, which can facilitate the development of those who live there. PIPEs will offer both ‘structured’ sessions and less formal ‘socially creative’ sessions in order to provide opportunities for relating and addressing issues that may be affecting progression through the pathway. Regular key worker sessions are also a core part of the model, providing an opportunity to coordinate and reflect upon your involvement on the PIPE, and your plans for the future.

In prison, a PIPE should be housed on a discreet unit, where influences from non-PIPE prisoners, and contact with non-PIPE trained/supported staff, is kept to a minimum. Residents may have to engage with the rest of the prison for activity such as employment or workshops but otherwise contact with non-PIPE staff/residents should be kept to a minimum to help contain and sustain the PIPE environment.

There are four different types of PIPE, each type with a different focus. Whilst some individuals do move from one type of PIPE to another, this is not always the case, or the expectation. There is not a ‘best time’ to go onto a PIPE unit as each person’s circumstances and sentence plan will be different.

Preparation: PIPEs focus on increasing motivation and readiness for the next phase of the pathway, whilst exploring any barriers there might be to treatment.

Provision: PIPEs are designed to provide a supportive environment to increase engagement with treatment activity, and support residents to actively apply skills and learning achieved through this treatment.

Progression: PIPEs are designed to support residents in consolidating and generalising their treatment gains, putting new skills into practice, and demonstrating improvements in behaviour.

In the community there are also ‘Approved Premises PIPEs’ which take a whole-premises approach to support effective community reintegration and resettlement.

At the time of writing there are 15 PIPE units in the men’s prison estate, located in category A, B & C establishments, and 3 PIPE units in the women’s estate. There is also a further 10 PIPE Approved Premises in the community, 3 of which are for women.

Individual suitability for a PIPE should be discussed with your Offender Manager, your key worker, or a psychologist in the first instance. They can then liaise with Units on your behalf and assist with the referral process.


This from 2014 was probably just aspirational:-

A guide to Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPEs) 

Since 2010 the Department of Health (DH) and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), in consultation with a team of clinicians, have jointly developed a new initiative now widely known as PIPEs, or Psychologically Informed Planned Environments. NOMS and NHS England are now in the process of commissioning PIPE services within the Criminal Justice System to support the progression of offenders with complex needs and personality related difficulties. 

PIPEs are specifically designed, contained environments where staff members have additional training to develop an increased psychological understanding of their work. This understanding enables them to create an enhanced safe and supportive environment, which can facilitate the development of those who live there. They are designed to have a particular focus on the environment in which they operate; actively recognising the importance and quality of relationships and interactions. They aim to maximise ordinary situations and to approach these in a psychologically informed way, paying attention to interpersonal difficulties, for example those issues that might be linked to personality disorder.

Approved Premises PIPE

A whole‐premises approach, focussing on a psycho‐social understanding of residents, and supporting effective community re‐integration and resettlement. PIPE Approved Premises will integrate PIPE model requirements into the core functions of the premises and aim to provide new experiences and pro‐social opportunities for its residents. The population will include a range of offenders at different stages of the pathway, for example a mix of those who have completed interventions and those who have not. The models above could be adapted to be delivered in a community setting, focussing on a specific population if required.


Letter to InsideTime 2013:-

I am an IPP prisoner that was released in December 2022 to a PIPE hostel. This meant waiting six months inside even after the Parole Board granted release.

I got to the hostel and for those that don’t know the PIPE system, it is meant to give you more support, often to those with personality disorders. I spent six months there and found it very supportive. The staff were really good. Like everything probation-related, it’s not perfect but it’s a start.

I have no family support or network and the staff, being aware of this, make it clear that when you leave the hostel to move on they are still there to support you. This gave me a bit more confidence when I moved, as I knew should I need help I could ask. However, I have now been banned by my probation officer from contacting the hostel as “when you leave, you’re supposed to move on”.

Now considering I had to wait to get into PIPE, you would think probation would know how it works and want me to make the most of the support available. No, not the case. Now, after 12 years inside and doing all those courses they insist you do about support networks and building relationships, I am sat alone in my own place seeing my probation officer for 20 minutes a week. The rest of the time I’m sitting alone, as I am not allowed to use the support network that consisted of professionals because probation says so.

So can anyone tell me the point of the PIPE, as the support it was meant to give is not allowed by the organisation that created it.

A former prisoner

Saturday 25 May 2024

What a Week

Well, that's been quite a week. Who would have thought our Prime Minister would throw a hissy-fit to avoid being dumped by his own colleagues, cement his political epitaph in the rain and start an election campaign both he and his party are clearly unprepared for. Being certain of defeat, it has triggered a veritable stampede by Tory MP's for the exit. Whilst this is most welcome in many cases, without a doubt probation and the causes of justice sadly loses a staunch ally in the retirement of Sir Bob Neill, long-standing chair of the Justice Committee:-  

To everyone who has contributed to the work of the Justice Committee 

You will be aware by now that a General Election has been called for 4 July. This means that, as of tomorrow, Select Committees are required to cease work ahead of Parliament being dissolved next week, on Thursday 30 May. 

The Justice Committee will therefore not be able to produce reports it had planned relating to its open inquiries: Prison operational workforce; Future prison population and estate capacity; Use of pre-recorded cross-examination under Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999; Work of the County Court; Probate and The Coroner Service – follow-up. 

I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to these inquiries and to assure you that, in the process of doing so, you have played a valuable role in the scrutiny of justice policy, enabling us to ask the key questions of those in power. The evidence you provided will remain on the public record on the Parliament website and will therefore be available to inform the sector and other stakeholders. Where it has been possible, we have also written to the Ministry of Justice with our high-level views. Many of the issues will still need to be urgent priorities for the next government, and it is therefore quite likely that they will influence the agenda of the Justice Committee in the new Parliament. 

I would also like to thank everyone who has contributed to our past inquiries. I firmly believe that, over the years, the cross-party Justice Committee has made a significant and visible contribution to the national debate on justice policy and been robust in holding the Ministry of Justice, its Ministers and its arm’s length bodies to account. For example, the Committee’s influential work on IPPs (Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences) as well its examination of the unsustainable risks around prison overcrowding and estate capacity has played an important role in shaping public debate on these issues. A functioning and properly resourced justice system underpins our democratic values and deserves a central place in Government policy making. 

During my time as a Member of the Committee and then Chair, I have seen the Justice Committee increase its strength and reach, undertaking challenging and innovative work and engaging directly with people who have real experience of the issues in hand. This excellent work, of which I am very proud, will no doubt continue in the next Parliament and I strongly encourage you to continue to engage with the Committee’s work. 

It has been an immense privilege to Chair the Justice Committee since 2015 and I thank you again for your support.

Sir Robert Neill KC (Hon) MP 
Chair, Justice Committee


It's to be hoped that Bob Neill may find himself elevated to that 'other place' in any Dissolution Honours and possibly go some way in picking up the mantle long-held by our other very keen but sadly missed advocate, Lord Ramsbotham. 

Lastly, I would like to thank Napo London Branch for kindly inviting me to speak to them yesterday in a wide-ranging discussion on everything 'probation'. Following as it did in the wake of the BBC Panorama programme, it's abundantly clear that any incoming government has a great deal of work to undertake in fixing many broken aspects of the criminal justice system, not least being a thoroughly demoralised and stressed Probation Service. In such circumstances, do look out for each other and consider sharing your thoughts and experiences with colleagues on here.     

Friday 24 May 2024

Lifting the Lid on Hostels

Entirely as expected, last night's BBC Panorama programme on Fleming House Approved Premises in Kent was a tough watch. Although I've never worked in a probation hostel, I've visited many over the years and supervised many clients who have been through them. It goes without saying that such facilities are a vital element in how probation seeks to work with offenders making the transition from custody back into society, but I suspect have always been under-resourced and almost certainly, misunderstood. 

Watching the programme, with the constant reminders of 'protecting the public' ringing in my ears, I found it just served to remind me of Rob Canton's recent paper Probation as Social Work and his oft-repeated mantra that maybe the best way to protect the public is to 'advise, assist and befriend'.

Of course there was plenty of sloppy practice, administrative failure, budget constraint and possibly lack of training on display, but what about any 'work' going on with residents? Some evidence of interest in them; some constructive and supportive interactions or activity? (As an aside, in the circumstances it is unfortunate that the election announcement led to cancellation of Tuesday's Newsnight examination of sex offenders and treatment programmes because this is a vitally important area of work.)  

Clearly all the extra layers of control, monitoring, testing etc etc have changed the nature of hostels as they have become the exclusive preserve of the high and very high risk, but to be honest is it not a fruitless exercise should they appear to be losing any ability of fostering rehabilitative benefit along the way? There doesn't really seem to be much point in setting people up just to be recalled.   

The austere, institutional feel of the place hardly fostered any notion that any efforts at 'rehabilitation' would even be possible and it did rather confirm in my mind that Fleming House was directly managed rather than independent? In my experience there is a marked difference and I know there have been 'tensions' surrounding the contractual arrangements between HMPPS and the voluntary sector. 

It's very much to be hoped that the independent sector is supported and encouraged because in my experience, that is where innovation, positive role modelling, meaningful engagement and less bureaucracy is likely. Just as HMPPS and the civil service are proving to be the kiss of death to community probation, it would sadly seem to be the case with hostels as well.  



Panorama - Napo's Position

Many people will have watched last night’s Panorama programme and be left feeling angry, anxious, saddened and undervalued.

The footage shown was only a tiny reflection of what would have been recorded by the undercover reporter during their time at Fleming House, and so necessarily has been subject to significant editing. That said, we can’t avoid what appears in the footage to be some individuals doing and saying things that were difficult to watch, no doubt most of all for them and their immediate colleagues.

But an issue seems to be that the undercover reporter, and the production company involved in making the programme, didn’t seem to at all understand some important issues related to the nature and purpose of Approved Premises and the wider work of Probation. Also, the failings of others – such as the ‘tagging’ company involved and the Police – were attributed to us and examples of normal working practice were misunderstood and misrepresented. If Napo had been approached before the programme had been broadcast we’d have been able to help them make a better-informed programme. Instead, we got the ‘expert opinion’ of someone who, before they retired almost a decade and a half ago, spent the vast majority of their career in the Prison Service, and has no front-line Probation experience.

The pity of it is that there were so many themes that were raised by the programme that we’d completely agree with, and which we’ve been raising for years at every opportunity with Ministers, HMPPS, the media and campaigning groups. Examples of this include; the devastating impact on us and our families and friends from the impact on our mental and physical health of working in Probation; the ongoing harm caused by ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’; the impact of years of public sector cuts and the inadequate funding of Probation compared to other parts of HMPPS and the wider criminal justice system; the true nature of the work that we do and how vital it is in our communities. Unfortunately, because of the confused and misinformed approach of the programme, these could be lost and the opportunity to properly publicise these wasted, made even worse by the fact that it was by luck scheduled for broadcast on the first full day of a general election campaign.

In the coming days we will see what further response HMPPS have to this programme. Even at the earliest stage of our contact with them this week Napo have raised the issue of what appears to be an abject failure in their staff vetting processes to enable this undercover reporter to spend, by their own account, 6 weeks as an HMPPS employee. Similarly, we have questions for HMPPS over the use of covert surveillance, data protection breaches – including the naming of some residents and use of unpixellated images – and the potential for fraud that appear to have occurred in the making of this programme. Napo believe that the BBC, and the production company involved, have more serious questions to answer. Their idiotic and reckless decision to broadcast information that could help some people better avoid detection for the preparation or commission of sexual offences is completely baffling. While Panorama asked ‘Can Probation Keep Us Safe?’ there is no question that in doing this they have endangered members of the public.

As discussed, Napo has been in contact with the employer in anticipation of the programme to seek assurances from senior leaders on support offered to staff going forward as well as a full review to find out how this situation could have happened.

Please do check on your colleagues and if you have concerns speak to Napo either locally or via your National Link Officer and Official. If you or your fellow members have been impacted by this because you work at Fleming House or undertake sessional work there please contact your local Branch. Napo will provide further updates in due course.

Thursday 23 May 2024

Unsettled Weather Ahead

All Washed Up

The government may be all washed up, but it will be interesting to see if last night's carefully prepared but abandoned Newsnight programme on sex offenders and specialist programmes will ever see the light of day now. No doubt they will be breathing a sigh of relief at HMPPS HQ, but there will still be a great deal of concern regarding tonight's BBC Panorama programme on risk and Approved Premises:-

Undercover: Can Probation Keep Us Safe?

"Panorama goes undercover in the Probation Service and reveals how easy it is for convicted criminals to go on the run, that drug tests are not being carried out because they are too expensive, and that staff are failing to carry out regular room searches.

The Probation Service is supposed to help keep the public safe and reduce reoffending when criminals are released from prison, but Panorama reveals a system described by staff as broken. The programme hears from families whose loved ones have been murdered by offenders on probation and reveals new figures for serious crimes, including rape and murder, committed by those on probation."

We must earnestly hope that this long-awaited election campaign can deliver some common sense debate on the state of our criminal justice system and the Probation Service in particular. Things cannot go on as they are with a crisis in both our prisons and community provision, however since the election gun has been fired, six weeks of purdah now takes effect and nothing officially is allowed to happen. It just might carry on raining of course, both actually and metaphorically.    

Wednesday 22 May 2024

An Important Read - Part Four

Here we have the concluding part of Professor Rob Canton's article from the latest Probation Journal convincingly making the case for a comprehensive reassessment of the remit and role of probation in England and Wales. Undoubtedly, for a new government, it will require political courage, but most would now agree the service is utterly dysfunctional as part of HMPPS and the civil service and must return to some form of arms-length, locally-administered QUANGO.

Reaffirming probation as social work

While most offending behaviour programmes focus on thinking skills and the development of human capital, the cultivation of social capital is quite as important in reducing offending. The pathway out of offending should not be assumed to be a simple reversal of the route in: achievement of their own aspirations, personal relationships, opportunities for employment, accommodation and social resources are recognised to be strongly supportive of desistance (Shapland and Bottoms, 2017). Programmes are undoubtedly of value to some people, but are not necessary for some and almost always insufficient.

Like other branches of social work, probation must take into account both of personal agency and social circumstances in their constant mutual interactions. Motivation and abilities are necessary to take advantage of opportunities; opportunities must be available and recognised. This calls for encouragement, motivational work and skills development, but also for efforts to make opportunities and resources available. In overcoming obstacles to desistance or in ameliorating difficulties that have brought people into contact with social services, working with other organisations through brokerage, coordination and case management is central. Indeed the concept of ‘offender management’ derived from approaches originally developed in healthcare and social work (Holt, 2007).

There is a further – political – parallel. Many social workers have to confront the accusation that their personalised approaches conceal the structural origins of so much distress. The belief that many disadvantages reflect not only inequalities but also injustices generates moral and practical dilemmas around what has been called working ‘in and against the state’ (London Edinburgh Weekend Return Group, 1980; Walker and Beaumont, 1981).

Individualised or family-centred approaches to social work can eclipse the overwhelming structural factors associated with clients’ struggles, risking collusion with injustice as well as limiting an understanding of the origins of many social problems and how best they might be mitigated. Similarly in penal policy one of the principal critiques of the ‘treatment model’ was that it translated structural, socio-economic disadvantage into individual pathology, obscuring and even exacerbating these injustices in ways that were both self-defeating and unethical (American Friends Service Committee, 1971).

Probation's professional repertoire has seemed substantially limited to trying to bring about personal change6. Centring on the assessment and management of individuals and pushing social context to the side have hollowed out probation discourse and suppressed its political and moral dimensions. Conceived as an agency of punishment – and now organisationally shackled to prison – probation has been discouraged from achieving its potential in community crime reduction7. Recent restructuring sets areas within a national, centrally governed Probation Service and distances it from the local dimensions of crime and desistance. Local areas should have the latitude to respond to their different economic and cultural situations: the responsivity of areas, no less than that of individuals, should be respected on grounds of effectiveness, but also as a component of legitimacy. The ‘sameness’ which bureaucrats tend to value, often mistaking it for justice and equity, could stifle local initiative and sensitivity to factors that matter to people in different communities. Here, perhaps, probation might learn from social services, where structure and lines of accountability at least make it possible for work to be responsive to local priorities.

Education and training

Probably for any profession, best practice takes place when staff endowed with knowledge and understanding deploy their skills in ways that give expression to the profession's values. Knowledge, skills and values accordingly constitute a serviceable framework for examining a professional curriculum8. It has already been suggested that while much of the social work curriculum is properly generic – for example, some knowledge of human growth and development, of psychology, of sociology, of relevant social structures and systems - different areas of social work require specialised knowledge. This challenge could be (was) met by distinctive streams.

Again, all social workers need certain skills, most of which are generic. Notably, both social services and probation work, under the authority of law, with involuntary clients to keep people safe and enable them to thrive. An involuntary client is not necessarily someone who engages reluctantly, or without appreciation – much less without benefit (Trotter, 1999). Involuntary clients are people who are clients whether they want to be or not: probation and social work are involved with involuntary clients in this same sense. Both require their clients (at least sometimes) to do things that they would not choose to do spontaneously or indeed would choose not to do. This calls for skills of engagement, developing relationships with people who may be suspicious or resistant, role clarity, motivational work, cultivating professional curiosity, problem-solving, analysis, judgement, teamwork, spoken and written communication, working purposefully in conditions of uncertainty. These are generic skills, even though they need to be honed and adapted to distinctive challenges. (There are, for example, particular skills in interviewing people who are bewildered - perhaps by mental distress or disability - and engaging with children.) However fundamental skills are common to all social work activities, can be explored in a university setting, and developed in practice. And all these skills are necessary for probation staff.

In their critique of genericism, Dews and Watts wrote of skills, but often what they were particularly rejecting were the values of social work. Many staff in probation at the time of the separation would have come across the authoritative statement of these values in the work of Father Felix Biestek (1957). Central to Biestek's account is the principle of respect for persons - an invaluable safeguard against the degradation or cruelty at which penal practices are commonly at risk. Biestek affirmed some particular values – values which practice and research have been shown to be essential to probation, even if now articulated in a different vocabulary. Thus: (Table 1)

Table 1. Social work and probation values compared.

Social WorkProbation PracticeRationale
IndividualisationResponsivityPeople are not all the same and practice must respect and respond to their differences.
Controlled emotional involvementEmotional literacyWork is often emotionally charged, both for client and worker, and workers must be sensitive to this, using it to therapeutic advantage.
AcceptanceMotivational work, including motivational interviewingMotivations fluctuate and workers may try to change or guide these. This is not achieved by recrimination or rebuke, which are more likely to generate resistance.
Non-judgemental attitude
Self-determinationAgency; self-efficacyPeople are and should be in charge of their own lives.

These are among the values specified by Biestek (1957). He included other values – for instance, confidentiality, where the boundaries are not always easy to determine. Once again, the positions for probation and for social work are just the same.

The principle of self-determination, which seems to have especially exasperated the Home Office, calls for particular consideration. This never meant that social workers were indifferent to the ways in which people acted: it affirmed the fundamental value of autonomy. Agency – taking charge of one's own life, actively seeking and creating opportunities - is a common feature of a desistance trajectory (Maruna, 2001; Farrall, 2011).

It is instructive, then, that while these values were likely to have been seen as the occasion for rejecting social work, they not only persisted in probation practice, expressed in a different terminology, but increasingly came to be recognised as essential to achieving compliance and reducing reoffending. They persist because they emerge from the challenges of staff trying to undertake difficult work in a principled manner.

Concluding reflections

Probation is social work, as so many countries recognise, and it is only political expediency that has encouraged successive administrations to repudiate that characterisation. Social work seeks to understand people, the difficulties that beset them and fitting responses to those difficulties in the context of social structure and circumstance, as well as in their psychological characteristics and their relations with others. This is how offending behaviour and desistance must be understood too and probation is limited and impoverished by neglect of social context. It is telling that youth justice in England and Wales has not lost sight of this and has managed to retain a strong social work ethos. Part of the explanation here, perhaps, is that it is politically easier to defend purposes of welfare and rehabilitation for young people, whose needs, vulnerability and capacity to change are more readily apparent than for adults. This makes it easier to defend a social work approach in response to their offences.

Nevertheless, despite the political posturing and reorganisation, there is a sense in which probation never left social work. As David Smith wrote, 
‘… for all the rhetoric of punishment and public protection, risk management and enforcement, when practitioners decide what they are actually going to do to engage and motivate clients, help them access resources and convey a sense of hope in the possibility of constructive change, they will find themselves using ideas and skills that have emerged from social work theory and research.’ (2005: 634)
Yet the formal repudiation of social work has been of considerable detriment to both professions. The separation of professional education in the universities has frustrated opportunities for fruitful exchanges in research and skills development (Raynor and Vanstone, 2016). In the past, the shared curriculum often involved practice placements in other agencies - a probation officer in training, for example, might be placed in family centre, a psychiatric facility or a community project. This made it easier for staff to resist reducing individuals to ‘offenders’, recognising the context in which the offences had taken place and desistance had to be accomplished. Reciprocally, social worker students might work in probation offices, gaining an appreciation of this work that would enhance their practice, especially when the agencies need to work in partnership. The educational curriculum no longer fosters these perspectives.

Safeguarding and public protection are essentially the same activity, even though different professions often have a different starting point in their complementary endeavour. A secure appreciation of one's role and its boundaries is essential in shared undertakings and this can only be fostered when the professions concerned have a deeper understanding of each other's responsibilities, resources, and ethos. So while it has been no part of my purpose to argue that probation or social work should take its educational model from the other, there is everything to be gained by closer alliances, including perhaps the sharing of modules in their respective curricula and even (although organisational difficulties should not be underestimated) exchanges in practice placement.

As for governance, any organisation ought to be structured, resourced and managed in ways that maximise its potential in achieving the purposes set for it. But sometimes it seems that probation policy has got this back to front – starting with governance without sufficient regard to the purposes, character and meaning of probation's work. Specifically, Transforming Rehabilitation was motivated less by ambitions to enhance practice than by ideological preferences for the involvement of the private and commercial sector. Again, while the reclaiming of the Probation Service and restoring it to the public sector was undoubtedly influenced by the transparent failures of TR, the creation of a centralised and national service – rather than a revival of the local Trusts - may well have been driven by the government's concern to have direct control over penal policy - which, as we have seen, became one of the principal battlegrounds in party politics and may become so again. Social services in England are the responsibility of Local Authorities and can be located within strategies for distinctively local provision. Probation should have position as well, as a key agency involved in promoting social (and not just criminal) justice.

This is an essential perspective for probation if it is to carry out its work in a manner that is both principled and effective, but has been ousted from what should be its central place by preoccupations with punishment and control. Rather than regarding other agencies as resources to address criminogenic need, probation could recognise its potential to put these other agencies in touch with some of their most needy and hardest-to-reach clients. As we have seen, research is now suggesting that that approach is invaluable in supporting desistance.

Political courage may be required to advance this understanding of probation. It is unfashionable to assert that probation has a duty to care for people under its supervision, or that the wider community has responsibilities towards people with criminal convictions as well as claims against them. It is therefore all the more important that probation and other social work services should stand as authoritative representations of how a good society should relate to those of its members who are struggling. No doubt these professions often fall short of the idealistic standards set out in this paper. Nevertheless, these are the values to which they should commit themselves and which they would be more likely to achieve if their historical connections were revived and reaffirmed.

Rob Canton

Tuesday 21 May 2024

An Important Read - Part Three

As we continue with Professor Rob Canton's' article in the latest edition of the Probation Journal, I notice that Good Morning Britain are carrying on their discussion of the prison capacity crisis. Thankfully it seems to have moved on from yesterday where Susanna Reid was championing the need of prison to 'protect the public' and may become a little more nuanced this morning. The public are hardly 'protected' are they if people come out far worse than they went in? 

Crime, desistance and social context

Probation was especially vulnerable to political assault because of its struggles to demonstrate its effectiveness in reducing crime. Nothing, it was often said, ‘works’ or could be shown to work. This conclusion was countered by emerging evidence in the mid- and late 1990s that some interventions, properly targeted and administered, appeared to reduce reconviction (Chui, 2003). These effective interventions were guided by principles of cognitive behavioural psychology, which emphasised the influences between thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Changes in behaviour were to be achieved by attempting to influence ways of thinking. As the focus sharpened, deficiencies in thinking skills became the target for intervention. Effective practice initiatives harmonised with the political presumption that causes of and responses to crime were to be found inside the heads of offenders. ‘Punishment in the community’ envisaged isolated and self-directed wrongdoers, with any attempt to invoke social context in understanding regarded as making excuses or simply irrelevant.

It is neither fair nor accurate to say that cognitive behavioural approaches neglect social context: the best accounts acknowledge disadvantage and insist on the importance of its being redressed in the processes of desistance (Robinson and Raynor, 2006). Nevertheless, the focus on thoughts, feelings and behaviour ‘entails the expectation that offenders, and not their social circumstances, must change, and encourages the abstraction of the offending act itself from the personal and relational context which could make it intelligible.’ (Smith, 1998: 108) Attention to social context foregrounds the structural, cultural and biographical circumstances that constrain the choices of so many individuals, making it more likely that they will have recourse to offending and making their desistance harder. No doubt probation officers have always been aware of the adverse social conditions that have denied opportunities and brought hardship to so many clients. Yet ironically it is mainly since the turn away from social work that an abundance of compelling evidence has shown the extent of social disadvantage and deprivation. A landmark here was the Social Exclusion Unit report (2002), showing that prisoners are disproportionately over-represented on pretty much all indices of disadvantage, the report linking their multiple needs and social exclusion with the large numbers of crimes they committed.

An historically more recent recognition has been the extent and significance of personal abuse and trauma, scarring the lives of so many users of probation (McCartan, 2020). Responses to these often unrecognised traumas have usually been inadequate (Boswell, 2016). Notably, many women caught up in the criminal justice system have experienced devastating abuse, yet the compassion rightly felt for them as victims or survivors mysteriously evaporates when the predictable consequences of such abuse are manifested (Corston, 2007). While the relationship between trauma and behaviour is vexed and complex, there are compelling reasons to believe that offending is among the consequences of such damaging experiences (Fox et al., 2015). Yet however this is understood, Sarah Anderson insists that ‘involvement in offending does not erase the experiences of victimisation and disadvantage that populate their life histories. Nevertheless, through institutional and systemic responses that isolate the offence from the life history, we act as if it does.’ (Anderson, 2016: 412). Respectful attention to these earlier life experiences raises standards of both ethics and effectiveness.

Among the indices of change in late twentieth century political discourse, Garland identified the rejection of representation of offenders as ‘disadvantaged, deserving, subject of need’. Yet there is abundant evidence, as we have seen, of disadvantage and need. What, then, is to be said about ‘deserving’? Once again, probation and social work are in similar positions. From its earliest origins, arguments have taken place in social work about desert, with attempts to differentiate between those in genuine hardship and, on the other hand, those whose imprudence, intemperance, extravagance or indolence has brought their plight upon themselves (Solas, 2018). With the development of the welfare state, however, judgements about desert were progressively displaced by judgements about need. Some of these needs have been translated into rights - claims upon the state to enable those under its authority to have fair access to resources and thrive.

In contrast to the trajectory of social policy, however, criminal justice remains preoccupied with desert. Ordinarily concern and compassion are felt to be fitting responses to hardship and disadvantage, but it seems a criminal conviction suppresses any such sentiment. People with convictions are ‘offenders’ and so liable to just punishment, but this is not all they are and they continue to have claims, which could be conceptualised as rights - claims on the state and on the community to support them in overcoming their hardships. This should be considered a duty of all social agencies, including those responsible for implementing punishment.

An example of how a loss of social context can blunt compassion and distort policy responses is the association between domestic violence against women and their offending. At least 57% of women in prison and under community supervision are victims of domestic abuse (Centre for Women's Justice, 2023). This will include women who have been compelled to offend under the controlling coercion of abusive men. Here, the distinctive categories of offender and victim - serviceable in most contexts and often indispensable – break down altogether. Experiencing abuse or coercion is not best understood as a risk factor for further offending by the survivor; nor are poverty, homelessness and unemployment best regarded as reoffending risks. However compelling the associations between disadvantage and crime, some of these basic needs matter not only or even mainly because of their putative links with offending, but because they represent deprivations and hardships which cannot justifiably be discounted or reframed as risks.

Among the injustices that disfigure our society are racism and other dimensions of discrimination. Neglect of the ways in which these shape criminal careers and can frustrate attempts at desistance would not only warp policy but leave probation vulnerable to accusations of collusion. Like other social work agencies, probation has tried hard to oppose racism in its own practices. Still, periodic reviews commonly uncover bad experiences, reported both by staff and by service users, and although there are some improvements, the conclusion of a recent report is that this remains (and no doubt always will remain) ‘work in progress’ (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2023). Some of the challenges go far deeper. It has been argued, for instance, that risk prediction algorithms incorporate and reproduce racial biases such that reliance on assessment instruments could propel people from minoritised groups towards unwarranted interventions (Ugwudike, 2020). Again, none of this can be fully appreciated - nor challenged - without an appreciation of the social context and the ways in which racism and other forms of discrimination can contribute to criminalisation and obstruct desistance.

To summarise: closer association with social work might have mitigated the hazards of losing social context in trying to understand offending - plainly a risk if psychological interventions are the favoured response. The contention that those who use the services of probation are undeserving could only be defended by reducing them to their worst behaviour. The tendency to essentialise people as ‘offenders’ obscures and suppresses other ways of understanding and identification. At times, probation is acquiescing in this process, if not actively endorsing it, whereas the challenge ought to be to find new identities and an associated different status. This too should be one of social work's guiding principles: that everyone is more than the worst things they have ever done, more than the problems that bring them to the attention of social work services.

Rob Canton

(to be continued)

Monday 20 May 2024

Knock On Any Door

For those expecting the next instalment of 'Probation as Social Work' by Professor Rob Canton, I'm taking a short break in order to talk about a remarkable film I caught on TV yesterday afternoon and that 'blew me away' as they say. 

Knock on Any Door is an American film from 1949 starring Humphrey Bogart and it caught my eye from the opening sequence because somewhat intriguingly it gave credit to the American Probation and Parole Association in its making. 

Without giving away the plot, (and don't spoil it by looking it up on Wikipedia) all I will say is that anyone who has an interest in 'Probation as Social Work' will find the time spent seeking this film out highly rewarding. I found it a tough watch, skilfully crafted but with what many will feel a surprisingly contemporary message some 70 years on. I've seen it described as 'left wing', features a social worker and I'm pretty sure would seriously anger today's right wing press. 

Although it seems the film was 'hugely successful', it didn't cut much ice with the New York Times film critic who was positively fulminating in a manner not unlike todays Daily Mail would be:- 
Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, called the film "a pretentious social melodrama" and blasted the film's message and the screenplay. He wrote, "Rubbish! The only shortcoming of society which this film proves is that it casually tolerates the pouring of such fraudulence onto the public mind. Not only are the justifications for the boy's delinquencies inept and superficial, as they are tossed off in the script, but the nature and aspect of the hoodlum are outrageously heroized."

On the other hand it's not difficult to imagine what the Guardian might make of it:- 

The staff at Variety magazine was more receptive of the film, writing: "An eloquent document on juvenile delinquency, its cause and effect, has been fashioned from Knock on Any Door...Nicholas Ray's direction stresses the realism of the script taken from Willard Motley's novel of the same title, and gives the film a hard, taut pace that compels complete attention.

Bogart's performance is impressive and was reported as saying thus:-

"Knock On Any Door is a picture I'm kind of proud of, and I'll tell you why," Bogart the producer said in a press release trumpeting the film. "It's a very challenging story; different; off the beaten path. The novel (by Willard Motley) was brutally honest. We've tried to be just as direct, just as forceful, in the picture. I think you'll like it better that way."

Unfortunately Knock on Any Door doesn't seem to feature on the Talking Pictures TV catch-up service 'Encore', so we either await a repeat showing or seek it out via YouTube or other similar platforms. Along with the British film I Believe in You from the same era, it's a must watch. 



Dear Jim,

Thank you so much for taking the time to email us, I am so pleased you have found Talking Pictures TV and are enjoying the films and series. The channel is very much a labour of love for us, so emails like yours mean a great deal to us here.

Sadly, we don’t have the rights to put ‘Knock On Any Door’ on our catch-up service, TPTV Encore, for free. It will definitely be shown again, but unfortunately, we don’t have a confirmed date just yet. I highly recommend signing up for our FREE Sunday newsletter, sent to you by email every Sunday, so you can be the first to know when it airs again. Sign up via by entering your email address in the box that says 'subscribe'. In it we list what's coming on the channel, a weekly quiz, series premieres, film premieres and news relating to film and TV from the eras we all know and love.

Also, our website,, has at least 4 weeks' worth of listings ahead on there for you to browse and plan your viewing, and for a list of this week's films available with subtitles please do click here:

Many thanks for your support, please spread the word in any way you can.

Best wishes,
For and on behalf of Sarah, Noel and Neill

Sunday 19 May 2024

An Important Read - Part Two

Continuing with serialisation of a recent article by Professor Rob Canton and published in the latest edition of the Probation Journal. Essentially this article convincingly makes the case for a fundamental review of how the probation service should operate because it is clearly failing as part of HMPPS and under civil service control. In election year it requires urgent attention by probation staff past, present and future, together with politicians and opinion formers everywhere. 

Care and control

For much of probation's history, practitioners, policymakers and commentators have wrestled with the problem of trying to reconcile its duties of welfare (originally ‘to advise, assist and befriend’) with its responsibility to enforce the orders of the court. Being ‘sentenced to social work‘ and thoughts of compulsory help jarred with many. One solution might be to argue that while compliance was compulsory, help could be optional (Bryant et al., 1978). Commonly this debate was framed in terms of an opposition between care and control and it was felt that unless this circle could be squared probation would have to abandon one of these missions (Harris, 1980). Any tension between these functions might have been less marked in the paternalistic times of probation's beginnings: for the wayward, to control was to care. The possibility that care might be the best way (not indeed to control but) to enable probation to secure compliance and reduce reoffending has been less considered.

The concepts of care, control and the relationship between them have been under-examined in these debates. A first thought is that ‘care’ and ‘control’ are an improbable pair of antonyms, seldom if ever set in opposition in any other context than this. One can look in vain in a dictionary or thesaurus of antonyms to find control and care as opposites, whether as nouns or verbs. The most common antonyms to care are words like carelessness, negligence, disregard or neglect; opposites of control include chaos, helplessness and (interestingly) neglect. This paper goes on to argue that both care and control have been misrepresented and the relationship between them – often presented as a stark incompatibility - has been especially misunderstood. In particular, their place in the work of probation is just the same as in (other branches of) social work.


Robert Harris defined care as ‘concern for the well-being of another and a desire to sustain or enhance that well-being in a manner and direction agreed between carer and cared-for’ Robert Harris (1980: 169). Is there any respect in which care in this sense is at odds with the work of probation? There is never a time when concern for the well-being, rights and interests of the probationer (and a desire to sustain or enhance that well-being) should be set aside. A harder question is that of the ‘manner and direction agreed’. It may be that a probation officer will encourage and sometimes have to insist upon courses of action directly opposed to the preferences of the client. Skills of persuasion and methods like motivational interviewing may be used to try to reach sufficient agreement, although they may not succeed. Nevertheless individuals should always be consulted before decisions are taken that will affect them in important ways. To proceed without conscientious regard to their views would be negligent and care-less.

None of this is to say that where their rights, interests and preferences conflict with others’, the probationer's should prevail: it will depend on the rights and interests at issue. Yet, more often than commonly supposed, the interests of probationers and of the wider community coincide. In particular, most people with convictions aspire to a future when they are not offending (Shapland and Bottoms, 2011; Shapland and Bottoms, 2017) It is the task of probation to encourage and support them in that endeavour. In that case, ‘the manner and direction’ of enhancing well-being are open for negotiation between officer and client and Harris's conditions of care are satisfied. Similarly, the misleading dichotomy presented by Straw, in his insistence that the client (intended beneficiary) of probation work is the public rather than the offender, dissolves: probation works in the interests of both and usually simultaneously.

There are, to be sure, affective qualities associated with care, for instance empathy, warmth and kindness. These too are practitioner qualities that can be shown to conduce to reduced reoffending (Dowden and Andrews, 2004). These findings chime with the experiences of both staff and service users. Rex (1999) found that probationers felt that officers who took a personal interest in them helped them towards desistance; staff believe relationships are at the heart of their practice (Deering, 2011; McNeill et al., 2005). Moreover, care is reciprocal: experiences of care nurture a capacity to treat others with care and respect (Brown Coverdale, 2018), which might be thought invaluable by cultivating the moral constraints that discourage people from crime. The persistent reluctance of governments to acknowledge these findings calls into question pretensions to be led by evidence and can best be explained by the belief that the connotations of care – and the corollary that social work must be kept at a distance – are inimical to control and punishment.

Respectful attention to the rights, interests and expressed preferences of the client, then, should be at the centre of a conception of care in probation's work: there is no sense in which this is opposed to attempts to bring about changes in behaviour. Many other branches of social work are in just the same position. In work with vulnerable children and their families, for instance, there will be times when decisions must be taken contrary to the wishes of some individuals, but it would be remiss to fail to consult them or to take account of those views. On the contrary, their preferences are an indispensable element in the assessment and planning of safeguarding. Care, then, is accomplished by a conscientious and sensitive attention to the rights, interests and views of everyone involved. This includes (but is not restricted to) discussions with service users. To practise in these ways is to be care-full, to fail to do so care-less.


Control is an exercise of power. The word usually connotes physical constraint, manipulation, and orders or demands backed by threat or maybe inducements. These connotations distinguish control from other modes of influence like persuasion or encouragement. The notion that some people should control others, encroaching on fundamental rights of autonomy, ought to arouse suspicion: in almost all circumstances, attempts to control are deplored and may lead to criminal prosecution, especially when done coercively.

There are, it is true, more benign conceptions of control. For instance, while there should be profound misgivings about a controlling state, social contract theory rests on the idea that citizens are prepared to give up some autonomy for the sake of peace, good order and social flourishing. Yet there are some areas into which the state may not trespass and unless limits are put upon its controls it will be accurately described as totalitarian. Again, many people approve of the idea that parents may and ought to control their children, although others would prefer to speak of guidance and direction. This is normally accepted as legitimate - because it is rooted in love, concern for the children's future and, crucially, because it is recognised as a means of instilling self-control as young people grow up. External controls are progressively superseded by internalised self-direction. In the best cases parental instruction is backed by explanation, enabling young people to understand not only what is expected of them but why, so they can apply such principles to new circumstances as they increasingly come to take charge of their lives.

Good parents offer guidance and sometimes restraint, but allow children the latitude to work out their preferences and projects for themselves. Where there is undue reliance on external control, the mutual trust and confidence that marks a good relationship are imperilled. There is no attempt here to assimilate the relationship between parents and children to that between probation staff and those under their supervision. There are, nevertheless, some points of comparison. In particular, the endeavour should be to replace external controls with self-direction. Consultation and explanation - the care-full involvement of individuals in decisions that affect them - are central to this process.

Within the penal system, the usual justification for control is the legitimate project of crime reduction. But because impositions are often burdensome they also match the demands of retributive punishment: irrespective of its effectiveness, control sounds satisfyingly tough. Yet punishment and control, so far from being allies, are often in opposition. Indeed typically the first distinction in the philosophy of punishment is between deserved (retributive) punishment and (crime reductive) control as purposes and justifications. And empirically the evidence that punishment can reduce offending is extremely thin (Bottoms and von Hirsch, 2012). Punishment turns out to be a weak, ineffective and usually temporary mode of control, while many conventional punishments are, so far from controlling, criminogenic (Canton, 2017).

Another legitimate aim for probation is to ensure that court orders or conditions of release are properly respected. Politically this topic has often been discussed in the reassuringly tough language of enforcement. Yet there has been a dearth of evidence that strict enforcement leads either to enhanced compliance or reduced reoffending (Hedderman and Hearnden, 2000; Hearnden and Millie, 2004). Bottoms (2001) urged greater attention to normative considerations for cooperation, rather than reliance on threat: a relationship marked by trust and mutual respect is the basis of legitimacy. When orders or instructions are given without explanation, authority is exposed as bare power - and resented accordingly.

Insisting on compliance is an inescapable part of the duties of probation staff, fulfilling the expectations of the court and a precondition of any useful work. It will always involve some degree of monitoring and sometimes breach action. Yet how this is undertaken seems crucial: decisions must be and be seen to be fair, with due regard to the interests of those under supervision. Where individuals can see that their interests have not simply been set aside - even if these must sometimes give way to others’ - the most unwelcome decisions may be accepted as legitimate (Ugwudike and Raynor, 2013; Dominey, 2019). Even (perhaps especially) the most controlling practices, then, can and should be undertaken care-fully. This attention is an indispensable component of effective engagement.

Nobody wants to be ‘controlled’. If care elicits a reciprocal care, control will meet evasion, furtiveness and attempts to escape. Compliance and cooperation depend upon trust and mutual respect (Ugwudike and Phillips, 2020); officiousness, scolding and punitive threatening will encounter resentment and resistance - a hopeless basis for constructive community supervision (Weaver et al. 2021). Encouragement, kindness, good humour and attempts to establish warm relationships are not only reductively more efficacious, but are part of what it takes to get the job done at all.

It is doubtful, then, that it is ever morally acceptable to seek to control other people. It is legitimate to try to manage behaviour and sometimes this will require external measures. Here, it is better to use words like restraint, prevention or restriction. These are words that call for specificity – restraint (from what?), prevention (of what?). Control, by contrast - both at the level of the state and within the criminal justice system - is at risk of overreach, inherently expansive and incessantly pushing at its proper boundaries. It is this unbounded nature of ‘control’ that should cause the most consternation. Just as there must be limits on a state's justifiable control of its citizens, crime reductive interventions should not seek to control any aspect of an offender's life unless it can be shown to have a bearing on the chances of their offending.

Yet however the word control is to be understood in this context, its meaning is just the same in (other branches of) social work. Probation has to administer a sanction for a crime, to that extent setting it apart from other branches of social work, but many of these other branches also have to exercise the authority of the law in their own distinctive area of responsibility. While social work has often felt uncomfortable with these associations, its functions include activities that are backed by the insistence of the state and are to that extent coercive (Handler, 1943). The most obvious examples are child protection, where children may be separated from their parents, and mental health, where people may be compulsorily detained. The preferences of the clients may be overridden by the interests of others or in their own interests when they are believed to be incapable of recognising these for themselves. These activities, both in probation and other social work contexts, can and should be managed carefully with due respect for and attention to the interests of all parties.

To summarise: a misunderstanding of the concepts of care and control has confused the debate. Control, without assiduous attention to its moral boundaries, is an unworthy objective; care involves respectful attention to the rights, interests and preferences of those concerned. This is both a moral imperative and a precondition of effective engagement and the reduction of offending. Working care-fully is likely to encourage compliance with legal requirements and changes in behaviour which will be sustained much more reliably than when induced by external controls. Care elicits a reciprocal care which is a sentiment to be cultivated among people who have not always shown sufficient concern for others; control generates resistance and resentment. Here, probation is in the same position as most other areas of social work: social workers have to care and ‘control’ in just the same ways and to just the same extent.

Rob Canton

(to be continued)

Saturday 18 May 2024

An Important Read - Part One

The latest Probation Journal carries an extremely important article by Professor Rob Canton and in my view should be regarded as essential reading for all probation staff past, present and future. I don't say this lightly and in an ideal world I'd rather hope it gained the attention of politicians and indeed anyone in positions of power and influence. 

We find ourselves in the middle of an unprecedented prison, probation and criminal justice crisis and it's election year. Essentially this article sets out in forensic but clear detail much of how and why we got here and one would hope it convincingly makes the case for a fundamental rethink of the role and purpose of probation. In my opinion, failure to grasp the urgent need for change will inevitably mean that probation not only becomes increasingly irrelevant but most worryingly, entrenched as part of the problem. 

Being conscious that the article may not be easily accessible for those who are not members of Napo, together with a desire to bring it to the attention of a wider audience, I've taken the liberty of sharing it in a number of posts.        

Probation as Social Work


In England and Wales probation was regarded as social work for most of the twentieth century, but some thirty years ago the government rejected this conception. In the context of continuing deliberations about the purpose and character of probation, it is timely to revisit its relationship to social work. It is argued that a principal reason for the politically motivated repudiation of social work was its associations with care, but this rested on confusion about care and a comparable misunderstanding of the concept of control. Appreciation of social context is argued to be fundamental to the work of probation. Social capital is no less important than human capital in achieving desistance. The skills and values of social work continue to inform probation because they match up to the demands of the job. Reaffirming connections between the professions would enhance the policy and practices of both.


Many countries regard the activities of probation agencies as social work undertaken in the criminal justice system. This used to be the case in England and Wales, but this understanding was overturned when social work was rejected as a way of characterising probation's work. The Probation Service, set back and damaged by the project of Transforming Rehabilitation (Burke and Collett, 2015; Deering and Feilzer, 2019), has now embarked on a process of unification as a national service. Since the organisation of any agency should be fitted to its purposes, a review of the character, meaning and point of probation is timely. In a recent contribution to this debate, the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee (2023) remarking that ‘Caseloads are unmanageable and job satisfaction is low.’ (page 4), referred to an occupational ‘identity crisis’ (page 70). In this paper it will be argued that, while the matter of whether probation ‘is’ social work sounds like a stale debate, reopening discussion can illuminate much about what probation is or ought to be and in particular the values that should find expression in its practices.

How probation was separated from social work

The view that probation was social work within the criminal justice system was scarcely controversial and even taken for granted in England and Wales for most of the twentieth century. Indeed, while the idea that probation might be part of a unified Social Services Department now seems implausible, in the 1960s the possibility was seriously considered. An awareness that families were poorly served by the fragmented arrangements under which services were provided by separate agencies led to an enquiry into the organisation of social work (Dickens, 2011). The resulting Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services (the Seebohm Report) recommended the creation of generic social work departments. This report acknowledged that a further impetus to the enquiry and an influence on the Committee's thinking had been the 1965 White Paper The Child, the Family and the Young Offender. It was abundantly clear to many that crime was bound up with disadvantage and deprivation and that a social work service for families might reduce the incidence of offending.

Outside of the new amalgamated services, ‘probation had severed its umbilical cord from the rest of social work’ (Whitehead and Statham, 2006: 46). Nevertheless, it was to be many years until probation formally renounced its parentage. The political debates of the 1960s and 1970s were more about organisation than purpose or ethos: probation staff continued to regard their work as welfare, sharing with social services workers the commitment to social casework as a mode of intervention.

With the collapse of the broad consensus that had prevailed for most of the mid- twentieth century, crime and punishment became ever more salient as an arena for political contest (Downes and Morgan, 1994). As ‘[t]he emotional temperature of policy-making shifted from cool to hot … the welfarist image of the offender as a disadvantaged, deserving, subject of need’ was replaced by ‘stereotypical depictions of unruly youth, dangerous predators, and incorrigible career criminals’ (Garland, 2001: 10). Welfare was to give way to punishment and control as fitting responses to crimes, together with a stated ambition that much could be accomplished in the community (for fear of an expensive and ineffective prison estate becoming even more overburdened). The Criminal Justice Act 1991 envisaged a ‘centre-stage’ role for probation, but at the price of presenting its work as punishment - a characterisation with which many practitioners were ill at ease.

The project to characterise probation as the agency responsible for administering punishment in the community was always likely to struggle (Brownlee, 1998; Worrall and Hoy, 2005). Not only did staff not understand their work in this way, but it has always been problematic to convince the public that community supervision, whatever else it is, counts as punishment. Supervision can be extremely burdensome and even painful (Durnescu, 2011; McNeill, 2018; Hayes, 2018), but these punitive hardships are seldom acknowledged in public or political debate. However that may be, the envisaged role for probation made connections with social work politically awkward. Association with a caring profession was altogether at odds with how government wanted to present the service.

The structures of governance, however, did not make probation readily amenable to control. The service was made up of 54 local Probation Committees (later reconstituted as Boards and reduced in number to 42). While the Home Office retained a level of oversight and direction, considerable latitude was retained locally, with councillors among the membership of Committees to represent local interests. If political promises were to be credible, central government would need to assert a much stronger and more direct control. That probation was substantially dependent on central funding gave government the leverage necessary to effect their changes. The Statement of National Objectives and Priorities (Home Office, 1984) required local services to draw up their own plans within parameters set nationally. 1989 saw the first National Standards (for community service), with a full set promulgated in 1992 in support of the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Changes in funding formulas from 1992 tightened the screw of control and enabled central government to mould policy and practice.

While the Home Office had increasingly been seeking to exercise a more immediate control, in its assault on probation as social work it was able to exert a direct influence on training. The overall qualifying framework and curriculum had (since 1971) been overseen by the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, on the basis that probation officers needed the same generic training as (other) social workers. Yet qualifying courses for probation officers in universities and polytechnics had to be approved by the Home Office, who also ‘sponsored’ students with (relatively generous) remuneration.

Concern began to be expressed that the distinctive knowledge required by staff was overlooked or suppressed, vanishing in a generic curriculum (Coleman, 1989). In response, the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work was replaced by the Diploma in Social Work in 1991. The new curriculum required much greater involvement from the agencies which were to employ their staff at qualification. ‘Streams’, including a probation stream, were devised to ensure that suitable knowledge was imparted. But they remained streams within a generic curriculum, still regarded as fully relevant to all social workers. Even though the probation stream came to be called the ‘jewel in the crown’ in social work education (Marsh and Triseliotis, 1996: 203), the government persisted in its concerns about over-genericism. It is likely there was also a suspicion that it was during their education that attitudes were shaped, perhaps including those that made staff inimical to the government's vision of probation as community punishment. If the ethos were to be changed, there had to be an altogether different approach (Dews and Watts, 1994). A social work qualification would no longer be required.

Political contest in this area intensified in the mid-1990s as parties competed for the claim to be ‘the party of law and order’ (Dunbar and Langdon, 1998). While promising to be tough on the causes of crime as well as on crime itself, as it came into government in 1997 New Labour did little to disturb the policy trajectory for probation. Punishment in the community would still be the watchword. And as the government moved quickly to set up a qualifying university education for probation officers, it was made clear that social work departments should not apply to deliver it.

Connotations of caring associated with social work, then, were still unwelcome. The administration seemed especially preoccupied with terminology. Probation service users had traditionally been referred to as ‘clients’, an established term for users of social services. But the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (1998) averred: ‘We agree wholeheartedly with the Home Secretary's comments regarding the language used in relation to community sentences; in particular we deplore the use of the term ‘client’ to describe criminals who are serving sentences.’ (paragraph 152) The word ‘offender’ was now insisted on. ‘Deplore’ is a strong word and it is worth pondering why the Committee and the Home Secretary (Jack Straw) were quite so vehement. Most plausibly, their aversion rested not on the precise denotation of the word so much as its connotations: offenders are to be condemned and punished; clients are entitled to service and to respect. Seeking ever more punitive credibility, other changes in terminology followed. After-care was to become resettlement; the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 changed Community Service into Community Punishment; the venerable Probation Order was renamed a Community Rehabilitation Order.

By 2008, Mr Straw, now the country's first ever Minister of Justice, congratulated himself that ‘Probation officers now routinely talk of the criminals they are dealing with as “offenders”, which is what they are, and not the euphemistic nonsense of “clients”, when the client is the victim and the tax-paying public.’ (Mulholland, 2008) There was little (party) political objection to this kind of stance. Still, the year before, at a service celebrating the centenary of the 1907 Probation of Offenders Act, the Bishop of Worcester reflected: ‘“Clients” have become “offenders” it seems; and “offender” slides easily from being a statement of fact – that a person has committed an offence or some offences – into an assertion of identity; they like the publicans and sinners of the gospel reading become a social class, a “them”.’ (Worcester News, 2007). Some words can help to sustain a protective dignity without which people may be ‘distanced and so pushed outside the boundaries of the moral community’ (Glover, 1999: 337). Language matters and is one of the principal ways in which the meanings of punishment are conveyed. To be the agency of punishment in the community, probation had to end its association with social work and the lexicon of penal policy rewritten.

Rob Canton 
(to be continued)

Friday 17 May 2024

Lying or Misinformed?

This from Napo yesterday on the prison early release fiasco did not mince words:- 

Lies, and more lies?

The ECSL scheme has attracted further attention in the media and in Parliament this week, including being the focus of exchanges between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions. But was everything that was said true?

Members will be aware that HMPPS’s End of Custody Supervised Licence (ECSL) scheme has attracted further attention in the media and in Parliament this week, including being the focus of exchanges between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Those of us with any experience of the ECSL will have struggled to recognise the scheme as described by the Prime Minister (as detailed in the Parliamentary record – Engagements – Hansard – UK Parliament).
“There are strict eligibility criteria in place, with exclusions based on public safety. No one would be put on the scheme if they were deemed a threat to public safety.“
“Let me be crystal clear: no one would be put on the scheme if they were deemed a threat to the public.”
“Offenders are subject to the toughest of licensing conditions and, if those conditions are broken, they are back in prison for considerably longer.”
“As I said, no one should be put on the scheme if they are a threat to the public.”
The true story

To be crystal clear, these statements are inaccurate and Napo members across England and Wales can cite hundreds of examples since the ECSL scheme was launched in October 2023 to evidence this.

Whether the Prime Minister deliberately lied to Parliament depends on how well he was advised on ECSL before he stood up in the House of Commons and started speaking. It may well be the case that, rather than being an outright liar, he simply hasn’t got a clue what he’s talking about and just parroted out whatever nonsense was written down in his briefing papers.

The problem for HMPPS is that this isn’t the first time that a Government minister has made inaccurate statements about ECSL.

In what seems to be the most recent written Ministerial Statement on ECSL, dated the 11th of March 2024, – – Alex Chalk (Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice) made these comments.
“We will also extend the existing end of custody supervised licence measure to around 35-60 days.”
“This will only be for certain low level offenders.”
Napo believe the truth is being stretched beyond breaking point on the question of whether “around…35-60 days” covers the Government’s recent extension of ECSL to 70 days. Of even greater concern is the outrageous claim the scheme is restricted only to a select group of “low level offenders”. Again, on this latter point, Napo members across England and Wales have first-hand experience that this simply isn’t true – and has never been the case – and that HMPPS senior leaders, at HQ as well as in each Probation Region and Prison Group, know this just as well as we do.

HMPPS is quick to threaten its workforce with the consequences of breaches of the Civil Service Code (The Civil Service code – GOV.UK (, and all too often bend over backwards to spuriously include it in disciplinary allegations against individual members of staff. The question from Napo for HMPPS senior leaders is, in line with the Code and its expectations on ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’, what they’ve done to make clear to these Ministers they’ve misled Parliament and the public about the ECSL scheme? Unless they act – evidenced by the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor going on to correct the Parliamentary record – this looks a lot like yet another case of HMPPS having one set of rules for front-line staff and another for its senior leaders.

Next steps in our campaign

Napo continues to maintain contact with figures in Parliament and the media as we’ve set out in previous mailouts about ECSL, as well as having ongoing meetings with HMPPS on the issue. Yesterday the Napo General Secretary was interviewed by Sky News who have afforded extensive coverage of the Prisons crisis see the interview here.

It remains vital for members to continue to keep us updated with their experiences of this ECSL – without including confidential or sensitive information on the individuals released under the scheme – as we have used these in the work Napo has undertaken in publicising our concerns. We want to again extend our thanks to members who have been in contact with us to this point, it’s very much appreciated.

Please contact your Link Officials and Officers or use the following email address if you want to share any of these experiences with us as your trade union representatives