What we've discovered so far:
- A good probation officer makes all the difference. Investing in recruitment and training of probation officers is key.
- Consistency of probation officer is so important, yet completely erratic. It erodes trust, damages relationships, and hinders progress.
- Getting released from prison is chaotic. That first attendance at the probation office on the day of release is seen as bureaucratic, unhelpful, a tick box and of little benefit to anyone. Do we always need to do it?
- Communication breakdown is too common. The importance of regular communication is clear, but too often it seems hampered by 5-minute meeting or an administrative error.
- Forcing people to change doesn’t work. Make sure that people are ready to engage with services, that they are prepared to succeed and not set up to fail.
- Empowered to become a citizen, not a service user. Probation services at their best engage someone with the community, link them to support networks and get them involved in the local activities (that aren’t offender-related programmes).
- The power of lived experience needs to be valued. The gap between probation officers and people who may appear unwilling to engage was so often bridged by someone with lived experience who could support the development of trusting relationships
We are at an important crossroads in the long and winding road of probation reform. Many might view the recent announcement as coming full circle, back to a National Probation Service. We believe is an opportunity to do some radical re-design, break out of the box and really ask ourselves what we want from this new era of probation services.