Meet the probation supervisor who spent his nights creating a better system to track offenders in his care

Written by Kim Thomas on 11 June 2018

With nominations open for the Civil Service Awards 2018, we speak to a 2016 Innovation Award winner about how he developed a more effective IT system for his workplace

The IT system created at Brighton Approved Premises tracks vital information about residents, including on drug and alcohol tests. Credit: Jeff McIntosh/ PA

The project that won Colin Hewlett the 2016 Innovation Award began life as a way of keeping him awake when he was working as a night supervisor at Brighton Approved Premises, a halfway house for high-risk offenders who have been released on licence.

Typically, an approved premises (AP) houses between 12 and 40 residents, who will normally stay there for a few months. During that time, they will follow programmes to teach them literacy, financial management and basic life skills. They are expected to follow regulations prohibiting drugs or alcohol and requiring them to be back at the AP by a fixed time each night. Hewlett’s project, a database called Information System for Approved Premises (ISAP), has made it easier for staff to record and keep track of vital information about residents. 

Hewlett had already had two careers ­– one working in IT, one as a teacher ­– when, approaching retirement, he took on some work for the probation service that then led to the full-time role in Brighton. Work as a night supervisor, says Hewlett, can often involve 12-hour shifts. In the first four hours, there are certain tasks that need to be completed, such as carrying out drug and alcohol tests or making sure residents have returned on time, but the hours between midnight and 7am are usually quieter.

“You’re there in case things kick off and residents want to talk to you, but very often, very little happens. You need to be awake, however, in case something does happen,” he says.

In those quiet hours, he started looking at the information requirements of staff working in approved premises (AP), and thinking about how those requirements could be addressed better. At the time, important details such as who was currently resident in the AP, when they’d arrived, which room they were in, whether they were keeping curfew and were up-to-date with drug and alcohol tests, were being kept on a series of Word documents.

With the support of his manager, Mike Rayfield, who gave him a clear brief, Hewlett spent several months creating ISAP, a database that would capture all that information. ISAP, which uses Microsoft Excel as the basis for the front end, makes it much easier for AP staff to carry out day-to-day operational tasks, such as shift handovers, as well as simplifying the process of uploading data to NDelius, the national case management system. It can also generate reports showing top-level information about, for example, whether targets are being met.

ISAP has now been extended to two of the other three regional APs (Guildford and Maidstone) managed by Rayfield, with plans to implement it in the fourth, Basingstoke. The ability to have data recorded in a standard way is helpful for area managers who want to see, for example, the occupancy levels in each AP.

Winning the Innovation award – as well as a Probation award in the same year – has helped to give the project a boost, Hewlett says, enabling it “to continue and grow by allowing me to work full-time on the development of the system. I suspect it would have been harder to justify a full-time post to do this in the absence of the awards”.

Nominations are now open for the 2018 Civil Service Awards.

The Civil Service Awards Community is a new section on Civil Service World that aims to celebrate past winners, inspire people to nominate in 2018, and help us all to learn from good practice. If you’ve ever won or been shortlisted for an award, register your interest to hear about future events and projects for awards alumni