Hearing the Voice of people on probation

Karen Kendall, Participation Lead for HM Inspectorate of Probation, says hearing the voice of people on probation matters.

This is a guest post by Karen Kendall, Participation Lead, HM Inspectorate of Probation

It matters

I sat for some time thinking about how I should begin this article; a big bold statement, some headline grabbing statistics or even some high-level strategic announcement? The phrase I keep coming back to when I think of why we want to hear the voice of people on probation is: “IT MATTERS! And we know it matters”.

It matters very much in many different ways, so much so that I could even argue it would be criminal if we weren’t hearing the voice of people on probation during our inspections.

It matters to our Chief Inspector, Justin Russell, who is deeply committed to listening to the experiences of people on probation. In our 2019 Service User Engagement Strategy he said:

“Service users need the opportunity to say what works for them and feel like they are an active participant in their own development and recovery, not just a passive recipient of the services that are designed to help them achieve that. But we need to go further than that. I want the Inspectorate itself to be a truly inclusive organisation that seeks and responds to the knowledge and experience that those who are supervised can offer.”

This has not just been ‘strategy strutting’, it has been followed through with actions. The kind of actions that really do speak louder than words:

  • For the last 18 months we have commissioned Lived Experience organisations to work on our thematic inspections. This has helped us to break down barriers and maximise opportunities to gather the experiences of people on probation. This means that the feedback gathered provides unique insights and forms a vital piece of the evidence for our thematic inspections.
  • Opening our recruitment campaigns to those who have lived experience of the criminal justice system, providing the opportunity to have lived as well as learned experience at the heart of the work that we do at the Inspectorate.
  • Commissioning an organisation that has experience and an understanding of the unique perspective lived experience can provide, to work with us in our Probation Delivery Unit inspection programme. This will undoubtedly give us the best possible potential to increase both the quantity and quality of feedback from people on probation.


It matters to me. In 2021 the Inspectorate recruited a dedicated Participation Lead: me!:

My role is certainly vital to coordinate a comprehensive strategy, which will work to reinforce and strengthen our commitment to ethical, meaningful and inclusive participation.

I know from my own conversations with people on probation it matters to them too. People on probation want to be consulted and to participate more fully, they want to be involved in seeking solutions and driving improvements.

People on probation want to have more opportunities, to be involved in decision making and strategy planning. People on probation want to have seats at the ‘decision making table’, for participation to be more than a tick box exercise or a token gesture. 

And as highlighted on this website, in similar ways to peer volunteers, people on probation often are keen to contribute by way of ‘giving something back’:

 “Many peer volunteers become involved in wider lived experience groups and movements, working together to bring about positive change in the social justice sector and beyond”

What next? As we look to the future and revisit ‘The ladder of participation’ ; move from consultation to sharing power, can we design a participation plan so that people with lived experience of probation services are directly involved in the development of our inspection approaches at a strategic level?

As part of this next phase, we have recently developed a webpage for People on Probation on the Inspectorate’s website. This provides us with an opportunity to set up a dialogue with people on probation, to record their responses, activity and give them a voice. It’s an opportunity to close the feedback loop:” I contributed to a survey and a focus group. What happened next?”,” Where a was this recorded?”, ”Can I see that it formed part of a bigger picture?”, ”What difference did my voice make?”

We are determined to gain the trust of people on probation, to demonstrate the Inspectorate’s commitment to understanding the crucial role their voice and participation brings to our inspections.

If you want to know more about our participation work with people on probation, please contact me.



Thanks to Mohammad Metri for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.


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