Looking Ahead to a Unified Probation Service: Guest blog - HM Inspectorate of Probation

Justin Russell, Chief Inspector of Probation, HM Inspectorate of Probation
July 30, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges to everyone working in the criminal justice system, probation included. Those challenges remain, including very significant delays in the Courts system, a major increase in the prison remand population and a large backlog of unpaid work orders for the probation service to get through. But it’s been a huge learning experience too and an accelerator of innovation – a natural experiment on a grand scale of a very different way of working. The pandemic has shown that criminal justice can adapt to change, be flexible, think on its feet – and can do all this at pace. It has been no different at HM Inspectorate of Probation, where remote inspections are now very much part of the process, and our inspectors are adapting their work to meet the challenges probation services continue to face.

The pandemic has been a huge learning experience too and an accelerator of innovation

I have made no secret of my admiration for probation staff during the past 18 months: this has been an unprecedented test of management and organisation – one which they have met with great determination and imagination. Many of the adaptations and innovations we have seen from probation services, to survive the terrible impact of Covid-19, may well prove to be of lasting value long after the pandemic has finished.

And so now we look ahead. At the time of writing this, in just a few days’ time – 26 June 2021 – all probation services will merge into one model: The Probation Service. I welcome the unification of services, but this will not be a quick fix for the inherent flaws in the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) model which have so negatively impacted probation and its ability to deliver a quality service to all. If there’s one thing I’d like The Probation Service to achieve, over the coming years, it is to use the opportunity of reunification, and additional investment, to focus on quality and – above all – on the quality of the relationship between individual probation practitioners and the people they supervise. This is at every single stage of supervision, from sentencing – assessments and effective sentence plans that manage risk and encourage desistance from crime – to effective interventions that work with people on probation to deal with the problems they have and prevent them from offending again in the future. This is a key focus for us as the Inspectorate and will continue to be in the future.

If there’s one thing I’d like The Probation Service to achieve...it is to use the opportunity of reunification... to focus on quality and – above all – on the quality of the relationship between individual probation practitioners and the people they supervise.