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RECENT: Modern Probation Theory - MPT: What is it?

MPT explains how Probation case supervision needs to be managed, which is mainly from the ‘bottom‑up’. It’s a specific version of practitioner-centred management.

MPT’s core component Defines what Probation work is specifically expected to achieve in terms of The Three Purposes; the other components flow logically from that.

For the Introduction

Go to this Page:

Also: My Memoir, 'Probation & Me: Fallible Memories of a Fortunate Career' is FREE and on the next page of this website



Commentary on Probation and related criminal justice matters is dominated by either penal hawks or penal doves, by public service missionaries or gung-ho privatisers and allied providers, or by single-minded advocates for the latest transient policy drawn from government pronouncement or from one panacea method or another...


I offer something different from that - well-informed fairmindedness.


The advice I offer is free of ideological dogma, and is based on evidence of achievement both as a 'do-er' - when I was Chief Probation Officer for Berkshire - and as a 'commentator', when I was HM Chief Inspector of Probation. I am as always critical of when Probation work is carried out badly, but positive about when it has been and is still being carried out well - and about how it can be carried out well in the future. I don't mind who does the work, provided that they do it well.

Much of my viewpoint, including my Prescription for Making Probation Work, is captured in the publications and other works to be found on the two pages of this website covering My Work, as well as in my Memoir. However, I can summarise my key point as follows:

The ‘Secret’ of making Probation work – NB it’s not really a secret:

Practitioners provide an individualised service, i.e. Doing the Right Thing with the Right Individual in the Right Way at the Right Time, to achieve the Three Purposes of Probation, with their managers working to make that more likely to happen, and with inspectors assessing how often that is being done well enough, though self-assessment can also be used.

A slightly longer summary of my viewpoint can be found in the section headed Legacy at the foot of this page, below, but I also crystallised it into my Introduction to Modern Probation Theory, as referenced above. This, and my other full writings on the My Work pages of this website explain in more detail the ideas in principle, and also ‘Prescribe’ how to carry them out in practice. I have also written a little about the current role and purpose of Approved Premises ('probation hostels'), as a consequence of the part-time role that I took up in 2021.


My CV and how to contact me can be found in the ‘footer’ and also on the Contact Me page.

Background, experience and achievement:


I've worked in and around Probation since 1973, in conventional settings and in prisons, in Leicestershire, Wiltshire, south-east Wales, Berkshire, and the Inspectorate, and later advising G4S, and subsequently Ingeus and Kent, Surrey & Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (including in Wales), and also the Victims' Commissioner. I now work in the world of independently managed "Approved Premises" - as 'probation hostels' are presently called. When I was Chief of Berkshire we had the third best Inspection result nationally (out of 54 areas at the time). As HM Chief Inspector of Probation from 2004 to 2011 I planned and carried out an increased quantity and quality of inspection programmes within our finite budget. Moreover, we achieved, I would argue, 'unique added value' by providing a service to the public - through the Crown - that no other organisation was either offering or able to offer.


Nationally, from 1992-2001 I was the recognised lead authority in Probation on offender employment matters, and was instrumental in bringing that work from obscurity to centrality. Following Inspectorate reviews of some notorious cases from 2005, I then became a lead national authority on managing dangerous offenders. In terms of what is achievable by practitioners I was either the first, or one of the first, to declare in the broadcast and other media that it is not possible to eliminate risk to the public completely, but it is reasonable for the public to expect the relevant authorities to do their job properly. Since then I have also spent much time and effort defining what doing that well looks like in practice, and then measuring how often it was being done well enough in each area across the country.


Despite these experiences as a 'commentator', I preferred it when I was a 'do-er' - making things happen - and in particular making happen the complete whole package rather than just one's own particular specialist interest area of work. In my view, very few people know how to do this in practice, and fewer still can articulate how to do this. This website is a part of my immodest attempt to make my viewpoint available to others.


In principle, I believe that Probation should be managed (or commissioned) by specifying outcomes, rather than through detailed prescription of tasks, although I also recognise that this is extremely difficult in practice. I have therefore set out my views in some detail in the publications pages that follow, summarising them in my Response to the MoJ Consultation in August 2018, and focusing on just two current symptomatic aspects of this in my submission to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee in 2017/18. My viewpoint is further captured in the Introduction to Modern Probation Theory (2021), referenced above.


Perhaps two fairly short extracts from my last month as Chief Inspector, in 2011, may serve as summaries of my viewpoint on Probation overall, and of how we had aimed to help improve it as an Inspectorate. The full documents can found on the

My Work since 2004 page of this website, but for ease of reference I reproduce these two extracts below.

First, I delivered as my concluding lecture, at the University of Oxford, my Tribute to those who do Probation work well, to capture my viewpoint on that world of work. This extract summarises my view of what 'doing this work well' looks like.

"...Probation and Youth Offending work is difficult to do well. You are trying to do the right thing with the right individual in the right way at the right time with a large number of infinitely different human beings. In this sense the work is always three-dimensional work - a mundane truth - but you are doing it the whole time in the context of a wide range of public debates dominated by two-dimensional exciting fallacies.

Management and inspection can actually get in the way of promoting improvement in practice if it gets it wrong by overprescribing and monitoring rules and procedures designed to tell practitioners what to do in any eventuality that might arise. But if instead we make it clear what are the bottom-line purposes we’re asking practitioners to achieve, and how we are going to measure those, then we can give skilled practitioners the discretion to make their own decisions about how they will work to achieve those purposes with each case, and be accountable for those decisions. That is the much more promising approach for management and inspection – and inspection has moved, and management does appear to be moving now, in that direction.

This means that each practitioner can keep asking herself or himself, not only at formal review times but at other times too:

First: “Am I holding this individual to the terms of the Court sentence or licence?” – that’s promoting compliance, and enforcing if and when needed –

Second: “Am I helping this person to become less likely to reoffend in future, and how will I evidence that?” – that’s using principally constructive interventions to achieve measurably reduced Likelihood of Reoffending

Third: “Am I taking all reasonable action to protect others from harm from this individual?” – that’s using principally restrictive interventions to minimise the individual’s Risk of Harm to others

And Youth Offending practitioners have a fourth purpose to achieve: “Am I taking all reasonable action to protect this young person from coming to harm, either from self or others?” – that’s minimising risk of harm to self.


Relatively speaking, all this is Simple to Say, but Difficult to Do, and yet people who do Probation and Youth Offending work are doing all this well a lot of the time now, and doing that more often and better than before – though obviously I’d very much like it to be even more often. This is what continuous improvement is all about.

Those of you doing this work, in whatever organisations you do it, if you are part of this syndrome of doing it well now, and doing it better, and more often, then this is my tribute to you."

The second extract is from the Foreword to 'my' final Annual Report of the Inspectorate (2010/11), in which I rather immodestly summarised how the whole Inspectorate team had worked together to achieve our aim of promoting improvement.

"Having completed my seventh and final year as Chief Inspector, I am as ever proud to introduce this Annual Report of the work of HM Inspectorate of Probation during 2010/2011 – our 75th year of public service. We independently inspect adult & youth offending work in order to help improve effective practice. 

The occasion of my own final Annual Report is my opportunity to highlight the quality of the collective work of all the staff of HMI Probation during the last seven years, as evidenced by the reports we have produced. In a demanding schedule, reports have been done on time and to a high level of quality, and this has been achieved only because our inspection staff (HM Inspectors and Practice Assessors) and our support service staff (inspection support, information and other staff) have all worked as an effective team. As Chief Inspector I have received a lot of positive comments from others about our work, and I would like to confirm here, on the record, that this has only been possible because of how well all the staff of this Inspectorate have worked together on our collective enterprise. 

My successor as Chief Inspector may well, properly, wish to introduce a new and perhaps different approach to the job. This is to be expected, because Ministers’ expectations and other developments in the wider context in which we work will continue to unfold, as they have done before during our 75-year history. However, for those who may be weighing up future options for change, it is worth noting how the work of this Inspectorate is currently helping to improve the quality of practice, both in adult & youth offending work, and in the wider Criminal Justice System. 

  • We’re independent, and we inspect work not organisations. As such, we intend to be seen as an authoritative source of ‘fair comment’. 

  • We don’t formally regulate or enforce, but we provide a national benchmark for what success looks like – especially valuable when providers become more diverse. 

  • We don’t focus on compliance with procedures or rules – instead we examine a representative sample of cases in each location in turn, and we assess how often in practice the right things were being done well enough with the right individuals in the right way at the right time, including a specific focus on the Public Protection and the Child Protection aspects of the work. 

  • We do this because no one else can measure these aspects of the work. In so doing we don’t duplicate the work of performance managers and auditors – instead we complement their work, and provide our own unique Added Value. 

  • Although there is a cost to the Inspectorate to ‘going out to see what is actually happening with real cases’ the cost to those inspected is low because we only ask them to ‘show us their work’, and we are very focused in what we choose to assess during each visit. 

  • Thus, our inspections overall are cheap, both for us and for the bodies whose work we are inspecting - for every pound spent on providing local Youth Offending teams across England and Wales (for example), roughly a halfpenny in total is spent on inspection*. And because of this, it is a false economy not to retain a rolling programme that focuses on the key sensitive subject of ‘public safety’, i.e. Public Protection & Child Protection. 

  • Because each body whose work is being inspected is also asked to provide at least one person to assist with an inspection, they each gain a person who is trained in our methodology, and in assessing against our ‘national benchmark’. This should help them to improve their own practice. 

  • Our joint inspections employ much of the same approach to examine the quality of work in many aspects of the wider Criminal Justice System. 

  • Overall, we also aim to behave while inspecting in such a way that the people we work with want to improve, and are enabled to do so. We receive positive feedback that we do this well. 


For the future, the latest refinements to measuring ‘Outcomes’ within our inspection methodology mean that our inspections could play a key role in assisting Ministers to know whether Probation Trusts or other providers are achieving the desired results. 

Our main office is located economically in Manchester (i.e. not in London), where almost all our inspection support and information staff do the project planning, organising and administration of each of our 70+ inspections each year, using software that we have designed and tailored to our specific purposes, within the infrastructure provided for us by our ‘sponsoring’ Department, the Ministry of Justice. They then process and quality assure the data collected, and organise the publication and distribution of each report (hard copies as well as on the website). 

In these ways these excellent support service staff, including those who handle our finance and other corporate services, enable the Inspection staff (Inspectors and Practice Assessors) to do their job of visiting localities, assessing the quality of the work that they see, and aggregating the qualitative judgements that they have made. Our panel of Associate Inspectors enables us to deploy quality people on inspection visits ‘as needed’ while keeping overhead costs relatively low. All the Inspection staff have also been excellent in conscientiously benchmarking their judgements, teamworking well in different workgroups, and delivering the demanding schedule of the core inspection programmes on time and to a good standard. 

The lead Inspector for each inspection manages the visit, collates the findings and writes the report. An Assistant Chief Inspector manages each inspection programme and also edits each report. The Chief Inspector manages the Inspectorate. 

*In round numbers each Core Case Inspection of Youth Offending work costs the Inspectorate about £24k, including overheads, and the local partnership maybe £11k, making a total of less than £35k for each one. That makes about £5.5m as the overall total cost of these inspections over three years. At c£400m per annum the cost of actually providing local YOTs comes to £1,200m over three years – and hence for every pound spent on providing local YOTs across England and Wales, roughly a halfpenny in total is spent on inspection. 


 Andrew Bridges 2011"

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