Ian Lawrence and Helen Banner write
Following the Ministerial announcements and testimony to Parliamentary Committees in recent days, the Probation Trade Unions are engaging in intensive discussions with senior Probation management about the impact of any legislative or policy changes on the supervision of clients who are released early from the HMP estate.
Throughout these talks the Probation unions and senior management have been considering how any changes can be facilitated within the objectives of our joint unions ‘Operation Protect’ campaign in terms of producing meaningful reductions in the currently unsustainable workload pressures on staff.
We aim to report further on this developing work following the Kings Speech to Parliament next week. Meanwhile, Napo have been briefing cross-party politicians to try and gain further insight into the governments thinking on their policies.
Last week saw Damian Hinds, Minister for Probation and Prisons and Michelle Jarman-Howe, Chief Operating Officer for Prisons HMPPS give evidence to the Justice Committee: Https://Committees.Parliament.Uk/Oralevidence/13753/Html/
The session was unfortunately short due to the Division Bell, but as can be seen, there were some less than illuminating answers to a range of testing questions about capacity in the Prison estate and actual staff shortages which for some inexplicable reason don’t get published by HMPPS.
Below are some of the key exchanges:
Q30 Edward Timpson: Minister, can I take you back to one of the announcements made last week by the Lord Chancellor that we have referred to—the presumption against short sentences? The measures of success are, from the Government’s point of view, a reduction in the demand on the prison estate, but also, I hope, a reduction in reoffending rates by the use of effective community sentences and orders. Taking that as one of those measures, clearly there will be more potential workload for the probation service.
Damian Hinds: Yes.
Edward Timpson: What assessment have you made as to the impact these changes will have on the probation service and its ability to provide sufficiently resourced, high-quality opportunities for rehabilitation around education, housing, sobriety and a job—all the key areas that we know make a difference and help to reduce reoffending rates?
Damian Hinds: You are absolutely right about the central role of probation and the huge difference that probation officers make in the lives of those individuals. As you know, we have put more money into the probation service—£155 million a year—and we have recruited quite heavily. There had been—and, as you will know, in some parts of the country there still are—significant staffing challenges. Because we have recruited a lot of people in the last two to three years, there are quite a lot of people who are, effectively, going through their training and development. They will of course become experienced probation officers in time, but right now, as we speak today, there is on average a relatively shorter time in post.
Your question was about what assessment we have made. We have absolutely made an assessment of the impact of these changes. The probation service is looking very carefully at how to make the most effective use of the time of its professional resource.
Q31 Edward Timpson: Can you help us in understanding the workload of an individual probation officer, accepting that every case is different, so an absolute number does not necessarily tell the whole story? Is there an accepted level of case load for a probation officer? Is the assessment that that will still be met with these changes?
Damian Hinds: There is such a view. You are absolutely right that situations vary by the exact type of case, by risk level and so on. Because of what I was saying about staffing challenges and how they have been different in different parts of the country, there have been a number of places where workloads have been too high and need to be made more manageable. What I was saying about the service—and the service itself is looking at this—is that we need to make sure that resource is being most effectively directed to where it makes most difference.
No, to something for nothing!
Our members will make what they will of the continuing claim by the Minister that recruitment of Probation staff is on the increase, but one thing is clear, that the Government needs the Probation service to help dig them out of the huge hole that they have created for themselves.
As we will be reminding the Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk at our upcoming meeting with him later this month, our recent AGM made it clear that this may come at a price.