Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEES 2012-13: Senior Probation Officers: for contributions to the engagement of offenders in London Probation services.
[Jacqueline Obodai gives her account of the work for which she won her Commendation]
The Service User Council (SUC) Project is a new and exciting initiative within London Probation Trust (LPT).
As one of the SPO Project Managers, I was involved in the initial scoping phase through to implementation of the project. The project vision was to provide a forum which enabled service users to have a voice in developing services and to provide a mechanism whereby products and services are co-produced (service users and staff), in order to improve service delivery and reduce re-offending.
This was a ground breaking project as it was the first of its kind to be established in the community.
To assist LPT in this endeavour, the project team commissioned User Voice – an ex offender charity, that has experience of establishing service user councils.
We initially piloted SUCs, and later developed councils across the whole organisation through series of phases. The initial phase involved canvassing service user interest by providing information about SUCs, in order to assess service users’ appetite for the council approach. An important element of this process was also to engage with hard to reach service users and those who had disengaged from the service as we were keen to understand what had contributed to their disengagement. It was also essential that councils represented the diversity of London, this was therefore a key feature of the council members recruitment process. Interested service users then met in an open space forum with local senior managers and staff to share issues experienced by a broad range of service users. Service users were then elected or co-opted to sit as council members.
Up to 12 council members meet every 4 – 6 weeks with local senior managers and staff. Service users present proposals which have been developed from common themes expressed by the wider service user population who have been engaged via regular surgeries. Council members share service users’ experience of probation, and provide suggestions as to how the issues could be addressed in order to improve effectiveness of services.
SUCs have now been rolled out across the whole organisation. Many suggestions and products directly from SUCs have been implemented locally.
SUCs meaningfully engage service users and we believe that LPT is becoming more responsive to service user need.
[The following article appeared in issue 5 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
Also commended were Jacqueline Obodai and Karen Tipping, Senior Probation Officers with the London Probation Trust (LPT), for contributions to the engagement of offenders.
Karen and Jacqueline work together as joint Project Managers for LPT’s Offender Engagement Programme (OEP), which aims to give offenders a greater voice in shaping services in order to maximise the potential for changing behaviour, with Karen leading on the project management side while Jacqueline leads on liaison and coordinating with stakeholders.
Working with a charitable organisation set up by exoffenders, they established service user councils with more than 20 elected offender representatives. The councils have already led to a peer mentoring programme to improve literacy skills and the development of more collaborative working arrangements in sentence planning, and offender feedback surveys conducted by the project achieved the unprecedented figure of 6,000 returns, the largest ever for the London Probation Trust.
When the next phase of the programme is completed, the aim is for around 75 per cent of LPT’s caseload of offenders to have a voice through a service user council. Participants have also been supported in making short films about offending that have been screened in prison and probation waiting areas, and Karen and Jacqueline have put enormous effort into successfully selling their vision throughout LPT and to the offenders themselves, with other probation services now keen to develop their own councils.
‘They are passionate, enthusiastic and have gone above and beyond the remit of managing a project,’ said London Probation Trust Chief Executive Heather Munro. ‘I know that because of their work we are delivering a better service to offenders, which will reduce reoffending.’