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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Do we have the right interventions to support desistance?

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HMI Probation research team analyses the range and adequacy of interventions.

Analysis based on >1,000 cases

Last week (22 January 2019), the probation inspectorate team published the fourth in its new series of research bulletins.

This bulletin, The availability and delivery of interventions (probation services)  is based on a secondary analysis of data from HMI Probation Quality and Impact (Q&I) inspections conducted between March 2016 and December 2017 (1,066 cases). In each case, inspectors considered key questions relating to the availability and delivery of interventions and the contribution of both contracted providers and partners, recording the reasons for their judgements alongside notable instances of good or poor practice.

Key findings and implications

The researchers highlight five key findings:

  1. Across eight of ten factors linked to desistance, interventions were available in more than 80% of the cases in which it was deemed a priority for the individual service user. However, interventions to address housing issues were not available in about one-quarter of those cases in which it was a priority. 
  2. Across six factors, sufficient interventions had been delivered in just under half of the cases in which it was deemed a priority. The research literature indicates that many of these factors overlap (such as drug misuse, lifestyle, relationships, and mental health) and that desistance is more likely if interventions are integrated and combine holistically. One-to-one work was sometimes delivered due to the lack of other interventions, but the quality of this work varied significantly.
  3. There was particular scope for improving intervention delivery and the contribution of contracted providers and statutory/non-statutory partners in relation to (i) lifestyle and associates, and (ii) attitudes to offending. The potential gains from addressing these issues are clear – the What Works literature indicating that pro-criminal associates and pro-criminal attitudes are two of the major risk factors for reoffending. Motivation to change is pivotal to desistance, and inspectors noted the importance of ’buy in’ from service users and how the use of motivational techniques could be effective. Conversely, initial motivation could be curtailed by delays in accessing services.
  4. Compared to partner organisations, the support provided by contracted providers was less likely to be judged sufficient for supporting the desistance of service users and the safety of other people. With regard to public protection, all those working with probation service users need to ensure that they have a sufficient focus on protecting actual and potential victims, with work being sufficiently well coordinated.
  5. In some aspects, delivery was more likely to be judged sufficient in National Probation Service (NPS) cases compared to Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) cases; for example, the contribution of both contracted providers and partners in relation to education, training and employment (ETE). The NPS cases also tended to have stronger information flows from partner organisations. 

Conclusions

The HMI Probation research team set out expectations around the range of interventions that should be available to any offender to help promote desistance:

Tailored and responsive delivery for all probation service users requires a strong mix of internal and external services, including those which are universal, targeted and specialist in nature. There needs to be sufficient flexibility and options to cater for those with often chaotic and unstable lives, as well as supportive interventions to address the needs of specific groups… Intervention services need to be person-centred, with all efforts having been made to identify and remove barriers to access, enabling the right interventions to be delivered to the right people at the right time.

This research bulletin highlights a number of key areas where improvements are needed:

  • Better access to housing, a growing gap which, obviously, undermines the potential for any person to turn their life around.
  • More interventions generally are needed, and, typically, better co-ordination of these interventions.
  • Delayed access to helping interventions can sap service user (and probation staff) motivation.
  • The National Probation Service tends to have stronger partnerships and better information flow with its partners and providers. CRCs need to improve in this area.
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