Over the past fortnight the Probation Service in England and Wales has been in the spotlight following the publication of two Serious Further Offence (SFO) reviews by HM Inspector of Probation Justin Russell.
The inspectorate’s findings in relation to the shocking murders which took place in Killamarsh Derbyshire and Ilford East London last year, have been the subject of extensive and highly critical media coverage on mainstream television and radio on two successive Tuesdays.
General Secretary Ian Lawrence, supported by the Napo Press, Media and Campaigns team has been exceptionally busy in trying to respond to numerous media opportunities where Napo has tried to offer its perspective on the contents of the SFO reports and the wider questions that have arisen about public safety, the state of the Probation service and it’s role within the Criminal Justice System.
Striking the right balance
Ian told Napo Magazine: “Given the widespread public revulsion that these serious further offences, and others before them, have caused, it needs to be remembered first and foremost, that innocent lives have been lost and families torn asunder by grief and anger.
“This means that the right balance has to be struck with the media in respecting the understandable feelings of the victim’s families whilst robustly calling out the increasingly desperate circumstances which too many of our members are facing on a daily basis.”
In the media coverage of the two SFO reviews, much has been made about the ‘failings’ of the Probation Service as identified by Probation Inspectors, but the reports also reference a host of underlying circumstances that Napo has been highlighting for many years. These include huge numbers of vacancies in most Probation Regions, the departure of highly experienced staff and the consequential pressure placed on new trainees with increasing numbers telling Napo that they are not likely to stay in the service for long, if at all.
In his engagements with the media, Napo’s General Secretary has been trying to articulate these issues and the impact of them on our members, but has also referenced the disastrous Transforming Rehabilitation reforms implemented by then Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling nearly 10 years ago.
Ian adds: “It’s one thing seeing politicians talk about the need for more training and vigilance by Probation staff, whilst they choose to ignore the egregious damage to the profession that was caused by their government’s part-privatisation of what was once a gold standard public service.”
Changing the polemic
As well as the publicity that has followed the two SFO reviews, last week also saw the release of a separate report by the London Assembly to which Napo gave evidence last year.
This mirrors the findings of Justin Russell’s team about serious operational shortcomings in probation service provision in London and the need for more strategic oversight by senior leaders at Regional and National level.
Napo National Chair Helen Banner is the Link Officer for Napo London Branch and has already started talks with the Branch Executive Committee in advance of an urgent meeting with the London Regional Probation Director.
Feedback from Napo members and independent commentators who have been following Napo’s contact with the media, suggest that the union has been successful in making the case that despite the welcome reunification into public ownership in June 2021, the Government has failed the public and failed Probation staff by its failure to adequately invest in the service and restore it to a position that resembles its former self.
Political pressure mounts
This week has seen further political developments that will only add more pressure on beleaguered Government Ministers.
In Prime Minister’s questions this week, Labour Leader Keir Starmer specifically devoted 3 of his 4 questions to the state of the Probation service and the findings of the London SFO review. Yesterday news also reached Napo of a Justice Select Committee session covering Prisons and Probation next Tuesday, and at the time of writing Napo and the Probation unions have been invited to an urgent meeting on Monday with Damien Hinds MP the Minister for Prisons and Probation.
Ian concludes: “It’s a tragedy in itself that it takes the loss of lives to make this Government sit up and take notice of things that we warned of many years ago.
“We obviously welcome an opportunity to meet with Ministers but I am very skeptical that we will see much change this side of a general election.” Adding: “I will certainly take the message from our members that it’s time to implement serious solutions rather than offering undeliverable promises.”
Over the last fortnight Napo’s General Secretary has taken part in a number of televised interviews with the BBC, ITV, Channel 5, Sky News and GB news and radio engagements with BBC 4, BBC 5 Live, BBC London and Times Radio as well as interviews with the Independent and Daily Mirror.