Between them the Probation Chiefs Association (PCA) and the Probation Association (PA) represent the leadership of the probation service in England and Wales. We believe in the importance of evidence-based policy making and seek to better inform the debate around probation and rehabilitation. We promote probation’s responsibility for protecting the public, supervising offenders in the community and want to ensure full recognition of the contribution probation makes towards reducing reoffending and reintegrating offenders into the community.
This is the first in a new series of newsletters aimed at parliamentarians, policy-makers, commissioners, academics and other stakeholders who have shown an interest in the future of probation. If you have any questions or would like to provide feedback, please get in contact with Ben Ritchie at ben.ritchie@localhost
Probation Trust leadership voices serious concerns with the Government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ plans
The Government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ strategy document has outlined plans for a new delivery landscape for offender management in the community. We are keen to ensure that public protection is not put at risk through fragmented lines of accountability and that the new nationally-let contracts do not damage effective local partnership work to reduce crime.
The case for a Probation Institute; maintaining professional standards and facilitating best practice exchange
The Government has stated its support to work with probation professionals to establish a Probation Institute. We are exploring the options for setting up a Probation Institute, as a way of bringing focus and direction to efforts to support quality and standards and to support the professional development of probation workers, whether in the public, private or voluntary sectors.
Merseyside Probation Trust has become the first ever public sector body to win the British Quality Foundation’s UK Excellence Award. MPs are recognising probation’s achievement through signing an early day motion.
Reoffending levels continue to fall for those receiving court orders, managed by the probation service in England & Wales.
We have encouraged Probation Trusts to develop partnerships with newly elected Police & Crime Commissioners and Health & Wellbeing Boards to help improve the public safety and wellbeing of local communities.
The Government has introduced reforms to require courts to issue more ‘punitive elements’ in community sentencing. We argue that, at their most effective, community sentences should strike the correct balance between punishment, rehabilitation and reparation.
Probation Trusts look forward to engaging with the Government in implementing its new strategic objectives for female offenders.
The Chairman of PA and Chair of PCA spoke to a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs recently.
Probation Trust leadership voices serious concerns with the Government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ strategy
The Government on 9 May 2013 announced its ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ strategy for reforming probation and offender rehabilitation services in England & Wales. In summary the strategy document stated intentions to:
- Abolish the 35 public sector Probation Trusts across England & Wales, and outsource approximately 88% of the total probation caseload to new private and voluntary sector providers
- Commence a national commissioning process run by the Ministry of Justice from summer 2013. Interested new providers would compete for 21 regional contract packages to directly manage and provide rehabilitation services to those offenders initially assessed as having a low-medium risk of causing serious harm in the community
- Incorporate payment by results into the new contracts, linked to the number and frequency of re-offences committed within a 12 month period across the total cohort of cases supervised by a provider
- Extend statutory rehabilitative supervision in the community to all those released from short term custodial sentences of less than a year, who currently receive no mandatory probation supervision under law (estimated to be an additional 56,000 cases annually). New providers would also be required to offer resettlement services to all offenders serving custodial sentences, facilitated through geographically realigning the prison system structure to fit with the new community supervision contracts
- Consolidate the public sector into a single national probation service which would:
(i) Carry out the initial public risk assessment for offenders serving sentences in the community (used to allocate which provider will manage the case, and indicate what level/form of intervention may be appropriate)
(ii) Directly manage those offenders assessed as of the highest risk of causing serious harm in the community, and those subject to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements – estimated to be around 31,000 annually.
(iii) Decide on action in relation to all potential sentence/license breaches after a first warning given by the case’s allocated provider, and advise the courts and Secretary of State on sanctions or recall to custody.
(iii) Provide pre-sentencing advice to courts and the parole board when requested
(iv) Retain responsibility for those approved premises which are currently managed by public sector Probation Trusts
(v) Retain a victim liaison role in all cases to which it applies (currently offenders sentenced to over 12 months in custody for a violent or sexual offence)
We have expressed significant concerns with the Government’s proposals as they stand.
The dismantling of a high performing public service structure:
The current Probation Trust structure in England and Wales should be regarded as a success story. Probation Trusts employ highly skilled professionals who are motivated by their desire to protect the public, deliver safe communities, and turn the lives around for some of society’s most complex and challenging individuals. Against the Government’s own performance rating system, all 35 Probation Trusts across England and Wales in 2012-13 are judged as providing excellent or outstanding services, and the British Quality Foundation in November 2011 awarded the service its Gold medal for excellence. MoJ statistics show that reconviction rates for those serving community sentences have been falling steadily under Probation Trust management (10% fall since 2000), and Trusts have controlled and reduced their expenditure to match Government targets. Trusts are able to adapt services to local sensitivities and needs and there are many examples of Trusts using their independence to innovatively work with other local private, voluntary and public bodies.
The Government’s reform plans would therefore dismantle a high performing Probation Trust structure, and replace it with a system that is untested and might not perform or deliver efficiencies as intentioned. Indeed, the strategy document does not specify the level of savings nor the reduction of reconviction rates that the Government realistically expects to make through the new structure, and we would urge for a full business case to be made and debated in Parliament before such a wholesale upheaval. There are risks that the existing professionalism, skills and public service motivation and ethos will be lost through the transition.
We have argued that the Government should instead work within and to improve the existing Probation Trust structure to tackle reoffending rates, deliver further efficiencies and introduce greater plurality at a local level. The competition process as set out would automatically exclude public sector Probation Trusts in their current legal form from bidding for the new contracts. We have argued that high performing Probation Trusts should at the very least be given an opportunity to compete for the new contracts on a level playing field with private and voluntary sector providers.
Risks to public protection
Around a quarter of all offenders change risk category during the course of undergoing their sentence in the community. The changing dynamics of risk of harm and case characteristics require professional and objective assessments, and continuous case management. The Government’s proposals would fragment offender management, ongoing risk assessment, delivering interventions and responsibility for breach recalls across different organisations and sectors. The complexity of information exchange between new providers and the public sector would be substantial under the Government’s proposed system, and this is likely to increase the risk of public protection failures.
Risks to local partnerships
Probation Trusts are currently a lead agency in an array of essential local partnerships, built up over time, that help to reduce reoffending and protect the public. These include;
(i) Community Safety Partnerships
(ii) Local Criminal Justice Boards and Reducing Reoffending Boards,
(iii) Integrated Offender Management schemes featuring co-delivery of services with the police
(iv) Community Budget pilots and ‘Total Place’ initiatives with Troubled Families
(v) Women Offender Community Schemes
(vi) Strategic engagement with Health and Well Being Boards
(vii) Resettlement, social housing and back to work projects
(viii) Victim Support and Restorative Justice
(ix) Service User Mentoring Schemes
(x) Youth offending teams
The government proposals rely on nationally commissioned contracts, which do not necessarily fit with local approaches to reducing crime. The upheaval would damage existing partnerships built up by Probation Trusts, and effective probation-led responses to local problems are likely to be lost. It is uncertain whether those awarded the new contracts would have the incentive to invest resources, second qualified professionals and proactively engage in local and multi-agency partnerships. Strategic objectives may not be shared and existing levels of trust and information sharing are likely to be lost.
The scale and pace of reforms
Over the next 18 months a new national probation service would need creating together with a complex market competition across 21 regions with large elements of new services, all to be in place by Autumn 2014. We have serious concerns that this timescale is unrealistic and could compromise public safety.
The joint PA/PCA submission to the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ consultation can be found here.
The case for a Probation Institute; maintaining professional standards and facilitating best practice exchange in a more pluralised offender management market
The Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation strategy document (p26) supports the “suggestion of a new professional body for the probation profession, across both public and market sectors,” and commits to “designing this body in partnership with probation professionals.”
We are exploring the options for setting up a Probation Institute, as a way of bringing focus and direction to efforts to support quality and standards of probation work and to support the professional development of probation workers, whether in the public, private or voluntary sectors. This could include the development of a professional register of probation or offender management practitioners.
Such a framework would give practitioners greater recognition of their professional skills, setting transparent standards of knowledge and competence to support the quality of services. This would make it easier for practitioners transferring between employers and give employers greater confidence during recruitment – essential in a more plural offender management market. Any new framework would also be expected to incorporate continuous professional development to update and improve the professional standards of those on the register.
We also believe that any future Probation Institute should facilitate best practice exchange between diverse providers and help collate evidence collected on effective interventions.
Probation Service wins awards
In October 2012, Merseyside Probation Trust became the first ever public sector body to win the British Quality Foundation’s ‘UK Excellence Award’. Read about the award here…
Early Day Motion 622 was laid in Parliament in recognition of this achievement and the wider excellence of probation, and has attracted over 100 signatures from MPs. View the Early Day Motion here…
Probation was also recognised at the Guardian’s Public Service Awards 2012, with Hertfordshire Probation Trust winning the award for Digital Innovation, and Nathalie Allard from Leicestershire & Rutland Probation Trust being a finalist in the Public Servant of the Year category. Read about the Guardian Public Service Awards 2012 here…
Latest Ministry of Justice Statistics on Reoffending
Reconviction rates for those on community orders or suspended sentence orders managed by probation have continued to fall steadily across England and Wales. The proven reoffending rate for the 2010 cohort stands at 34.1%, down 0.3% compared to the previous 12 months and down 3.7% since 2000 (an overall fall of around 10%). The average number of re-offences per re-offender who initially receive a court order is down 17.7% since 2000.
In comparison, the proven re-offending rate for those adults who received short-term custodial sentences of less than 12 months, who do not receive any interaction with probation services, has increased by 3.3% from 2000, standing at an overall reoffending rate of 57.6% for the 2010 cohort.
Probation Trusts open to developing new partnerships with Police & Crime Commissioners and Health & Wellbeing Boards
Probation has always taken a lead in developing local partnerships of organisations with a common interest in improving public safety in their area, for example through Community Safety Partnerships, Local Criminal Justice Boards, Reducing Reoffending Boards, and Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.
Newly elected Police & Crime Commissioners assumed their appointments on the 22nd November 2012. We have encouraged Trusts to engage with their PCCs. We would also like to encourage PCCs to make the reduction of re-offending in their community a priority; working with their local Probation Trust to develop strategies and commissioning priorities that would be most effective at preventing crime in the particular circumstances of their locality. For more information see PCA’s position on PCCs.
Health & Wellbeing Boards went live from April 2013. Probation Trusts recognise that this presents an opportunity to improve the strategic planning and commissioning of health and care resources to better take account of specific offender needs. Not only would better targeting of resources to offender needs improve public health, but it would also help improve public safety by recognising the opportunity offered by tackling health inequalities to help reduce offending. A PCA report concerning HWBBs and offender health, is here.
The Government has introduced a provision in the Crime and Courts Act 2012 making it mandatory for courts when issuing a community order to include at least one requirement imposed for the ‘purpose of punishment’ or a fine for the offence. Requirements with a ‘punitive element’ would include curfews with electronic monitoring and compulsory unpaid work. The reforms are part of the Justice Secretary’s recently stated ambitions to “put punishment back into community sentencing.”
The PCA recognises the importance of punishment in the sentencing framework, but has concerns that over-emphasising the punitive component of a community order could draw resources and focus away from necessary rehabilitative requirements. Punishment on its own is usually ineffective in reducing reoffending, and the PCA has argued that sentences are most effective when they strike the right balance between punishment, reparation and rehabilitation. The PCA’s full position is here.
Probation committed to delivering effective community sentencing for women offenders
The Government has announced new strategic objectives for female offenders in a ministerial statement (22nd March 2013).
We welcome the Government’s decision to establish an Advisory Board chaired by Helen Grant, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, which will draw upon multi-agency expertise in penal affairs to help implement the Government’s women offender strategy. We are delighted that the management of Probation Trusts will be represented on this Advisory Board by Liz Rijnenberg, Chief Executive of Wiltshire Probation Trust.
The Government’s new strategy commits to working with criminal justice sector partners to promote effective community sentencing options for women offenders. The strategy encourages greater targeted support for women offenders, such as the development of specialist treatment programmes for women with alcohol and drug problems, as well as gender-informed advice on education, housing and employment.
We encourage the Government to commit resources to continue building upon the progress made through women offender projects since the Corston report. The Government should ensure that local, multi-agency partnerships targeted at the needs of women offenders are factored into any future commissioning models that emerge from the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms.
Probation Trusts in England & Wales have been working collaboratively to support and complement Women’s Community Services. Many Probation Trusts are now working in partnership with statutory and voluntary partners to develop new and bespoke projects to support women using their expertise and knowledge to help shape the future of women’s services in a more outcome focused environment. .
To read a leadership blog post by Liz Rijnenberg, PCA lead on women offenders and CEO of Wiltshire Probation Trust, please see here..
PA and PCA speak to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs
Sebert Cox, Chairman of PA, and Sue Hall, Chair of PCA, spoke at a meeting of the above group in the House of Commons on 23 April.
Sebert Cox gave an outline of the work the 35 Probation Trusts currently do, the numbers of offenders they supervise and victims they assist. He also said that the total national probation budget was £814M and that the budget had been decreasing over the last three to four years.
Sue Hall told the MPs and peers that probation had welcomed both the emphasis that the Coalition government had placed on rehabilitation and the proposal to provide support for offenders serving prison sentences of less than 12 months. The service also welcomed the proposal to drive down levels of bureaucracy.
She said the probation budget was relatively small and said it was difficult to avoid the impression that, in order to drive competition for services, a model has been constructed designed to maximise the amount that could be competed. This model was untested and appeared risky.
The Government’s previous set of proposals seemed manageable. In contrast, the current proposals amounted to a total reconstruction of community sentences and the supervision of post custodial licences in the community. They would result in complicated systems which could increase risks to public safety.
She explained the dynamic nature of risk, provided illustrations of why the proposals would result in a flow of offenders between the two sectors that would be created under the proposals and said that such fragmentation of risk management could result in disruptions to flows of information. Both organisations were very concerned that people may fall through the net. Also, lengthy supply chains would dilute accountability, leaving it unclear who was responsible for an offender.
At a time when more and more public sector reform was going local, nationally-let contracts as proposed felt counter-intuitive and would effectively take a gamble on the future of currently effective local inter-agency relationships and programmes of partnership working.
She also spoke about the untested nature of payment by results in probation and wondered how the creation of perverse incentives, “cherry picking” compliant offenders and parking intractable prolific offenders would be avoided. Would the market tolerate a significant proportion of the contract being subject to PBR – conversely, if it turned out to be tiny, would that be worth the disruption that the complete restructuring of probation would cause?
Criminal justice colleagues across Europe considered the probation service in England and Wales as the gold standard – ours was the model for much of what is developing nationally in rehabilitation practice. There was complete astonishment from European colleagues at what was being proposed.
Sebert Cox explained that the work of private and voluntary sector service providers was currently held together by the probation service. Fragmentation was a big risk as we would be moving to a system of service delivery by a mixture of organisations with no track record in this area and there was a serious risk that things could go wrong.
On payment by results he said it was likely that contractors would want to work with easier cases and would not want to lose money by acknowledging things were going wrong. Past experience showed that, if the voluntary sector was to become involved, they would take take quite a lot of risk and not a lot of reward.