Probation launches recruitment drive

Work with offenders looks at the detail of the new probation workforce strategy

1,000 new probation officers

The Ministry of Justice announced today that frontline probation services will be boosted by a major new recruitment campaign looking to have a thousand extra probation officers in training by the end of the financial year.

The announcement was made by Prisons and Probation Minister Lucy Fraser as she launched the new Probation Workforce Strategy. The news of more recruits will be very welcome to probation staff across the country. Ever since the probation service was split in two by the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme in 2014, the service has been under-staffed both in the public National Probation Service and the 21 private Community Rehabilitation Companies. In its recent review of the mismanagement of Joseph McCann who committed multiple violent and sexual offences while under the supervision of the National Probation Service, the Probation Inspectorate identified a number of individual failings by probation officers and managers but also highlighted that staff are working in an environment where they faced “intolerable workloads”.

Earlier this summer the MoJ finally faced up to the fact that Transforming Rehabilitation has been a failure and announced that the CRC contracts would be terminated next summer and the service reunified as one National Probation Service.

New workforce strategy

In addition to promising more staff, workforce strategy sets out five key objectives:

  • Promoting well-being for everyone
  • Attracting and retaining talented people
  • Supporting and developing probation staff
  • Creating a more diverse workforce
  • Fostering confident leaders “who inspire and empower others”

The Probation Workforce Strategy sets out a number of key actions underpinning these objectives which include:

Developing new IT systems with greater automation giving staff more time to focus on working directly with offenders.

Fostering the skills of the most talented officers through new training programmes and career opportunities, helping retain staff and make better use of their experience and knowledge.

Creating a new route for existing junior probation officers (Probation Service Officers) to achieve senior roles helping the Probation Service make quicker use of the experienced staff it already has.

Improving wellbeing schemes and giving more emotional support to frontline staff with professional counselling and buddy schemes. HM Prison and Probation Service is concerned at the impact of remote working on many of its staff who have been operating an exceptional delivery model throughout lockdown. Staff who undertake difficult interventions with angry or upset people they are supervising normally debrief informally by talking to colleagues, an option not available when everyone is working individually from home. As with so many of us, there are concerns about the cumulative impact of remote working on personal wellbeing.

HMPPS will also review how recruitment and training works to attract a more diverse group of jobseekers and respond better, and quicker, to increased demand. This could mean having more regular intakes, introducing apprenticeships or making changes that make probation as attractive to university leavers as other graduate programmes. The strategy also makes a long-delayed commitment to make it possible for people with criminal convictions to apply to be probation officers.

Global concerns heightened by the Black Lives Matter campaign have resulted in plans to increase diversity with targeted recruitment campaigns, new regional Race Ambassadors and inclusivity training for all staff.

The selection process for new recruits has already changed, with a new online behaviour-based assessment at application-stage and role-play activities at interview that allow applicants to show how they would react to real-life scenarios they are likely to face as probation officers. HMPPS claims that this “real-world” approach has already proven to be an effective means of increasing the diversity of those appointed.

Looking forwards

Many probation staff will welcome the new strategy which has a concrete list of action points with many scheduled to be achieved in the next couple of years. However, the success of the strategy will be measured on how well it integrates probation staff currently split across the NPS and 21 CRCs, succeeds in recruiting and retaining staff and develops a more diverse (including people with convictions) workforce.