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Principles for the future probation service
10 "business requirements and principles" for an effective future probation service, deliberately constructed with a focus on service delivery from Joe Kuipers provided the inspiration for this post

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Looking forwards

Many readers interested in the probation service, particularly probation staff themselves, will be aware of Joe Kuipers who spent a working life in the probation service as a practitioner, manager, inspector and, until his recent retirement, Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust. He has been resolutely opposed to the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) and has argued his case strongly through a series of posts on his blog.

Joe’s posts are always worth reading because they are closely argued from the basis of his detailed knowledge of the culture and operating mechanisms of the probation service.


10 Probation Principles

I think his most recent contribution to the debate is one of his most stimulating; in it he sets out his 10 “business requirements and principles” for an effective future probation service, deliberately constructed with a focus on service delivery:

  1. A holistic, coherent and consistent system of offender management (that is the assessment, sentence planning, risk review, court and parole board advice, etc) that enables the offender, service and partners to be clear as to who is responsible and accountable for what;
  2. Differentiated, efficient and effective offender interventions that take account of the needs and profiles of different offender groups (e.g. women) and ages, paying proper regard to equalities and applying the principles and practices of restorative justice, desistance theory and ‘what works’;
  3. Service delivery organised around the existing Local Delivery Unit structures;
  4. A cohesive, intelligent and well-trained workforce with staff equipped to understand and influence (change) human behaviour in a complex social environment and able to communicate effectively;
  5. Sufficient middle managers to support and guide service delivery staff, and similarly for corporate and support services;
  6. A cost-effective and lean senior management structure, and corporate services working to this senior management structure;
  7. IT that works;
  8. Simple governance arrangements to separate service delivery responsibilities from policy making to avoid any conflicts of interest or undue influence in the delivery systems and that enable financial and business transparency fully open to public scrutiny;
  9. Understanding that the probation service is a community based operation with the key strategic and operational community partners being the courts, the parole board, the police, local authorities other community providers and that there needs to be an ‘offender management relationship’ with the prisons;
  10. Adherence to the 7 principles of public life.



Joe, in my opinion, has chosen these ten at least in part in order to construct an argument about the failings of TR. I’m in agreement with many of these (I know many probation staff who would be prepared to lose a week’s annual leave in return for principle 7 – a functioning IT system – figuring that this would make a greater contribution to keeping stress levels under control).

However, I do think the time is right now to encourage a debate that is more about principles and values per se, rather than combine these with business requirements. My initial list, which takes inspiration from Joe’s, would be a probation service which:

  • Prioritises protecting victims and potential victims
  • Believes that maximising the life chances of offenders is usually the most effective way of protecting the public
  • Works at a local level with local communities
  • Challenges and seeks to overturn all forms of discrimination against and by offenders
  • Seeks long term personal change based on our best understanding of a changing evidence base (currently embracing desistance theory)
  • Develops and implements sentences which focus on holding offenders responsible and accountable for their crimes and promoting positive personal change, not punishment.
  • Seeks to provide a coherent service at every stage of the criminal justice process
  • Works in partnership with providers from public, private and voluntary sectors in the interests of protecting the public and rehabilitating offenders, irrespective of individual organisational goals.

I’d be very interested in readers’ own views about the guiding principles for the future of probation work.

Please use the comments section below.



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3 Responses

  1. I love your principles Russell but I have two comments. Let’s drop the word offender with all it’s potential to label and talk about people who offend.

    Secondly I worry that our statements about prioritising victims ( which everyone agrees with obviously) feeds into the over simplistic mind set of “us and them” Old research undertaken by ACOP in the 1990s evidence that people with convictions were far more likely to have been victims of crime than people without convictions, especially in areas of high deprivation and poverty.
    So many young people that I worker with as a probation officer had been damaged as victims themselves in a range of ways it was difficult to see at what stage they should be redefined purely as perpetrators. Difficult to get the tone of this right but I would just welcome less victim v offender images

  2. Hi Maxine
    I do acknowledge both your points, the fact that the label “offender” isn’t helpful to people who want to change and that many offenders are likely to be repeat victims. I still feel that probation’s primary focus has to be on preventing future victims (including offenders themselves) and that the best practice holds people who offend to account and helps them to change. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to or can change at a particular point in time and probation must, in my view, prioritise “protecting the public”.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment


  3. Danish Probation achieves much lower reoffending than the UK. Denmark has a population of 5 million with 280 probation staff of whom 80 are admin and 13 managers.

    There aim is to Reduce Crime from which every other objective follows.

    Intruding the least amount possible in the client’s life is one principle they follow. And why not, annoying someone unnecessarily is not going to help form a good relationship.

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