Strengthening awareness of the PPO for a stronger impact

As part of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman 2019/21 Strategic Plan, we identified a priority project in which we, as an organisation, could look at ways we can improve relationships with our services in remit, in order to facilitate effective implementation of our recommendations by frontline staff.

Our Investigators in both Complaints and Fatal Incident investigations often need to either request information from staff or interview them to gain more information about an incident. During their investigations, our Investigators have identified a significant knowledge gap in staff’s awareness of who the PPO are, what we do and our overall purpose. This in turn affects both our ability to obtain central information to an investigation, conduct efficient interviews and to implement recommendations effectively. It also clearly has an impact on staff, with many fearful about their involvement in our investigations.

Myself, Graham Manders, an Investigator in the Complaints team, and Peter Dixon, a Senior Investigator in the Fatal Incidents Team, have therefore been tasked with managing a PPO awareness project with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) as a result of this. To help drive this project forward, we have enlisted the help of  two students from the University of Greenwich, who are working exclusively on this strand of work. As part of their roles, they are formulating ideas, creating content and liaising with HMPPS during project discussion meetings.

Scoping of the project, alongside colleagues in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) People Group – Learning & Development, is still in its early stages, however the discussions that we have had so far have been overwhelmingly positive. During these discussions we have brainstormed several ideas, which include but are not limited to:

  • Providing key information about the PPO, outlining who we are and what we do during staffs initial in-house induction courses (which they receive at the very beginning of their roles)
  • Developing training materials, including real case studies from both Complaints and FII, for staff to engage with during their custody and detention officer apprenticeship learning journey
  • Formulating online content, including detailed information about the PPO and our investigations on ‘myLearning’, which is an online platform accessed by HMPPS staff containing a wide range of information and learning material
  • Tailoring information about the PPO being provided to staff, depending upon their grade. For example, Custodial managers that line manage staff who have been contacted as part of an investigation

Two developers from the MoJ People Group – Learning & Development have been assigned to the project and, favourably, both have previous operational hands-on experience of working in the prison system and knowledge about what we do, with one developer having been previously interviewed by the PPO as part of an investigation.

The new Custody and Detention Officer Apprenticeship introduced by HMPPS has a real focus towards interactivity and allowing staff to build a solid knowledge base through engaging exercises. By potentially embedding real life PPO case studies into this course, this will allow staff to get a feel for a PPO investigation, what kind of information we must consider and, vitally, why it may be necessary for us to speak to them regarding an incident. Further to this, the introduction of a dedicated PPO section onto the ‘myLearning’ platform will give staff a direct point of reference for further information if they have been contacted by a PPO Investigator, and a working knowledge of who we are, and what we do prior to any potential interview.

While the implementation of any of the mentioned ideas are still in their infancy, we are optimistic that, at the very least, prison staff knowledge of the PPO will be greatly increased as a result of this project. Our hope is that when this project is successful in boosting prison staff knowledge of the PPO, we can then pursue similar avenues with the National Probation Service and the Home Office to boost knowledge of the PPO in approved premises and immigration removal centres.

It has been apparent from our initial discussions that there is a real need for this project, therefore this is a brilliant opportunity to widely increase awareness about the work of the PPO to central stakeholders across all grades within the prison system. At this point, we are finalising timelines for project completion, and the team are regularly meeting our colleagues in MoJ People Group – Learning & Development to progress matters as quickly as we possibly can. We hope to share further information soon.

Graham Manders, Investigator, Complaints and Peter Dixon, Senior Investigator, Fatal Incidents