I gave a lecture last week in which I talked of the ‘the politics of ignorance and despair undermining the Probation Institute and (I hinted) it could go out of business’. In the recent publication of the British Journal of Community Justice (14.1) Professor Emerita Anne Worrall posed a similar question: ‘Standing back and ‘seeing how it goes’ will result in the PI failing. The danger is that too many people will only realize that it might have been worth getting involved when it is too late to do so’ (Worrall, 2016)
New organisations which survive change rapidly at the outset and seek to listen to its constituency to do so. The PI has now completed its set up phase over a two year period, has listened, has developed and changed and in April launched its Business Plan for 2016-17 (see http://probation-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Business-Plan-2016-17-Final.pdf ). This represents a restatement of what we have achieved in those first two difficult years but crucially represents a reassessment of who we are, what we do and how we will do it. Unfortunately amongst some commentators there remains a residual resentment of issues which have an history or at least a mythology but one in which we feel we have moved on. This blog is the last time we seek to address some of these concerns.
Firstly a clear statement in the Plan is the rejection of the idea of corporate membership. It was not the right way to go and so we have moved to a concept of partnership. Yet even this has been criticised. Partnership is a concept which allows all partners to pursue their own agendas as we do ours. It does not imply agreement on all issues. In fact given the volatility of the field of probation at the moment this would be unlikely. Yet it must be right to have a relationship with the organisations and bodies which we can hope to influence over the future of the profession of probation. So we will work with NOMS, MoJ, NPS, CRCs, No Offence, Magistrates Association, Napo, Unison, UserVoice, Unlock, the HMI Inspectorate and maybe even the Howard League in order to get our message across. Recently we ran a Consultation event on the new probation officer training and helped ensure that there is one award for the NPS and CRC to avoid accusations of second class citizenship for those within CRCs. The PO qualification remains at the heart of our register, somehow misconstrued by some intent on causing mischief. But, we want to ensure that other qualifications get due recognition both at a beginning level for other grades but also to work towards our aspiration to encourage advanced practice, a clear marker of a vibrant professional presence.
We have listed what we have been doing over the first two years in the Plan and, given the size of the organisation, we have achieved a great deal. All the infrastructure is in place and we are now focusing on developing key messages, see our Position Papers. (see http://probation-institute.org/position-papers/ ) There are more in the pipeline and we are now developing our professional networks. You can join a single network without being a member so if you have a specialist interest please sign up for one of our existing networks – Women in Justice, Veterans, Electronic Monitoring, Professional Development, – or suggest new ones. We want to hear your voice.
The PI grew out of an initiative from the PCA, Napo, Unison and PA. The financial support that PCA supplied was significant in enabling us to develop the infrastructure. But we now have a diverse Board and a Representative Council which reflects much wider interests including higher education, practitioners, union links and voluntary organisations. Our executive membership is evolving along with the organisation, there is only so long that we can be held accountable for that past. Voluntary effort is at the heart of how we function, you want us to do other things then get involved!
This must include our vibrant and diverse group of Fellows. Of course, it includes managers who have a long track record in probation and we are glad that some have applied but the grouping is much wider than that including practitioners, trainers and key probation academics and the voluntary sector. It is not a closed shop and anyone can apply. Some Fellows are working hard to support the PI and we are grateful for such help.
We are acutely aware that our membership numbers have been affected by the plight of staff who are demoralised or worse have been forced to leave probation behind. There is a real personal tragedy in the events of the last two years and we all know it could have been avoided. Nevertheless we have to look forward and try and ensure that the high quality and evidence-based standards of the recent past are maintained despite the cutbacks, the redundancies, the re-modelling, the deprofessionalization and the negativism which abounds. You will see in our Plan we have set out a positive agenda and want everyone who cares about the profession to resist and persist in maintaining commitment to a positive future, however dark it might feel right now.
One key aspect is our desire to create and develop a Centre of Excellence. Our Research Committee is working on this and we have appointed a high-profile Academic Advisory Panel to support this work. We have inherited the Graham Smith Awards which showcase practitioner research and the next round will be announced soon. Our first annual practitioner conference is on June 8th, in conjunction with No Offence and at Sheffield Hallam University. It has a terrific line-up already nearing capacity attendance. Book your place before it’s too late.
If we don’t heed the warnings of fellow travellers like Anne Worrall we will derail the one organisation whose single-minded agenda seeks to maintain the professionalism of probation and community rehabilitation organisations and the profession itself. Shout at us, debate with us, challenge us but do so in a shared spirit of seeking to provide a way forward, not simply to snipe at long gone issues, part myth, part fantasy. This does not help the Institute going forward, read our Business Plan, see what we are actually doing, join if you wish and get involved.