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New Chief of Prisons and Probation

Russell Webster profiles Dr Jo Farrar, the new Chief Executive of HMPPS

Last week, the Ministry of Justice announced earlier the appointment of Dr Jo Farrar as the next Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service; she will take over from the long-standing current post-holder Michael Spurr on 1st April.

The official press release summarises Dr Farrar’s career going back to her time in the parole unit in 1987. She spent 16 years in central government working in the Home Office and Cabinet Office. She has extensive experience as a Chief Executive in local government a post she has held at both Bridgend County Borough Council and Bath and North-East Somerset Council. She was made an OBE in the New Year’s Honours in 2016.

During this time, her principal task would have been to have find ways in which the councils were able to deliver as many services as possible with less money to do so every year which will certainly suit her for life at the MoJ.

She returned to Central Government in August 2016 where she became Director General of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Sir Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary at the MoJ, welcomed her appointment, although those working in prisons and probation might think his “cautious optimism” assessment of the current situation in our prison and probation systems is a little disconnected from the day-to-day realities:

“Jo’s record of getting difficult things done in the public service made her an outstanding candidate for this job. She will provide energy, focus and humane leadership as HMPPS emerges from several challenging years. It is a tribute to Michael Spurr’s determination and skill, as well as to the hard work of so many colleagues across HMPPS, that Jo will arrive at a time of cautious optimism for this incredibly important service. I look forward to working closely with her as we consolidate and accelerate this progress.”

The press release also includes Dr Farrar’s “acceptance speech”:

“I am hugely honoured by the opportunity to lead HMPPS at such an important time. It is a service that is critical to protecting the public and helping people turn their lives around. Early in my career, my work in prisons and probation gave me a lasting commitment to public service and a passion to make a difference. I am delighted to return.

The issues we face in our prisons, and the need to put vital probation services onto a strong footing, are well known. Working alongside the dedicated people in all parts of HMPPS, I look forward to addressing these challenges and delivering improvement over the years to come as we create an outstanding service of which we can all be proud.”

Michael Spurr had plenty of, often vocal critics. Nonethless, he was highly respected by a large number of people in the prison and probation services and most attribute the current crises to political decisions and austerity rather than his failings as a leader.

We shall have to wait and see how both services fare under the leadership of Dr Farrar.