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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Probation steps out of the shadows

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I have long advocated the use of social media in general and Twitter in particular as a way for public services to raise awareness of what they actually do.

Here Stephen Hallmark, better known in Twitter circles as @GMPTprobationpr, provides a great example in




A couple of months ago an exchange of tweets resulted in frontline probation staff challenging Probation Trust Chief Executives to see what their working day was really like.

@JoMeadCx, Chief Exec of Derbyshire, picked up the gauntlet and @Zoestaffsgmpt and @OfficerBazza  were put forward by the on-line Twitter community as good candidates for Jo to visit.

#shadow4aday consisted of Jo’s trip across the county border to Greater Manchester, and a return visit by Zoe to Derbyshire’s HQ in Buxton.

The first leg…

Jo spent the morning with Barry at New Choices, a project which runs from two bases in Trafford and involves the supervision of offenders in a non-probation venue, where they can also meet Jobcentre Plus and use computers to access training and job opportunities. She then accompanied Barry on a home visit and watched him input data on Delius – a system soon to be installed in Derbyshire.

She said: “Barry was really entertaining and interesting, GMPT took a different approach to changes in national standards and we are following on the Trust’s heels and will also be looking at ways to free up probation officers and allowing them more freedom. It was very helpful for me to see how New Choices takes probation out into the community.”
Barry added: “New Choices embraces a new way of thinking – desistence theory in the field. Jo told me in Derbyshire some offenders travel 30 miles to report at their office, so this scheme interested her on a number of levels.

What I took away from meeting Jo was her passion. She is such a vibrant person, to know she’s running a Trust has really driven me. “I didn’t think Twitter would deliver anything like this, it is also a tremendous way to share information with police and build relationships with local partners – I recently got a referral from Tweeting. I believe all probation officers ought to Tweet!”

Zoe works in the policy and audit team at GMPT’s HQ and was previously part of the Intensive Alternative to Custody (IAC) team. She said:

“It was like a weird blind date, I didn’t know how I’d recognised Jo so I went to the tram station with a piece of card on which I’d written #shadow4aday.

“The idea was to Tweet as much as possible about it and raise awareness about probation. Other chiefs are visiting probation officers as a result of this initiative and I think it’s great to be a part of that.
Having witnessed her commitment firsthand, I developed more respect for the people in the top jobs, and also saw some fantastic initiatives in Derbyshire which I can apply in my work.
In this world in which competitiveness is being constantly promoted, it was also nice to meet a chief from a neighbouring patch and be able to open our doors with no strings attached. Twitter can be over-egged, but #shadow4aday shows how powerful it can be.”
Jo visited the policy and audit team and then IAC.
Zoe said: “I was concerned that Jo would find my job a bit dull, but she was fascinated by the data I was collating on a pilot group of offender managers who are improving practice with regard to professional judgement.
At IAC she met a number of offenders, including one I was preparing for a restorative justice confrence. We introduced her to them as a probation officer so as not to intimidate them, and to my utter delight they spoke eloquently and positively about how the order had benefitted them.”

..and the return

Zoe visited Jo the following day at Derbyshire Probation Trust’s HQ:

“Jo filled me with a lot of confidence, she is young, she was in cohort one of the trainee probation officer programme and I was in cohort seven, which illustrates that if you are good enough and committed then you can get the top jobs. “She has a very warm personality and is innovative. She’d been working for an hour prior to my arrival at her HQ at 8.30am, my day kicked-off with Jo’s meeting with the Trust’s three assistant chief executives and business director.

Zoe saw probation officer interviews, attended a Probation Liaison Committee (PLC) meeting with magistrates and met with the Trust’s research and performance worker.

Summing up

Jo said: “It was an excellent experience, I am so thankful to all involved and the process illustrates how useful Twitter can be at levelling hierarchies and testing zeitgeist.
“It was smashing to see two such dedicated and well trained probation officers. It would have been hard for a chief to have work-shadowed colleagues in their own Trust, it can be quite intimidating, but this was a great way for me to learn about approaches to probation in different areas and share best practice.”

“I will definitely do #shadow4aday again, the benefits are huge.”


A number of other probation trusts have also participated in #shadow4aday.

Read more of Zoe Stafford’s rather individual views on being a probation officer.

Related posts you might like:

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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