What information has been released?
Earlier today (17 November 2014), the Ministry of Justice published “management information” for the four month period 1 June (when probation was split into the National Probation Service [NPS] and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies [CRCs]) and 30 September 2014. The purpose of the information is to support the Judicial Review of the changes to Probation under the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme requested by lawyers acting for the probation union, Napo.
The MoJ cautions that this is a one-off ad-hoc release, and is not “representative of how future probation performance information will be published.”
The information covers four areas:
- Public Protection
- Risk of Serious Recidivism (RSR) assessment and Case Allocation
The data are national, not local; although split into NPS and CRCs with comparisons to historic data.
The public protection section contains two sets of data – serious further offences and recalls on licence.
The number of SFOs recorded in this four month period was 151 lower than that in the corresponding periods in 2013 (181) and 2012 (181 again).
By contrast, the number of licence recalls increased. In the 9 weeks from the beginning of April when probation trusts were still operating the old system, there were an average of 317 recalls per week.
In the 17 weeks from the beginning of June to the end of September, there were an average of 353 recalls, 177 by the NPS and 176 by CRCs.
Without any qualitative analysis, these figures tell us very little. Were the public protected more because more prisoners were recalled, were offenders recalled because of an inceased aversion to risk, or was this just a short term variation? There is no way of knowing from these figures.
The staffing section covers three sets of data: sickness, overall staffing and joiners and leavers.
Over the last five years, the annual average number of working days lost through sickness per member of staff was just under 10 (no figures are given, just a graph without data points). Sickness rates do seem to have increased over the four month period covered by this information as this table of annualised sick days shows:
Surprisingly, given the number of probation officer posts currently being recruited to, the number of FTE staff in post has increased from 16,200 in January 2014 to 16,650 in September.
Over the two month period of June and July 2014, 30 more staff left CRCs than joined them while in the next two months there was a complete turnaround with 80 more staff joining than leaving.
The story was very different for the NPS where 200 staff left in the four month period from June – September with just 30 staff joining.
The data in the performance section provides information on three main areas of performance:
- timeliness of service delivery;
- delivery of the sentence of the court;
- completion of sentence requirements.
The proportion of oral and fast delivery reports continued to increase as it has done since June 2014. 97% court reports and licence recalls continued to be done on time. However, the proportion of parole reports submitted on time fell from 93% in March to 83% in September.
A similar proportion of community sentences and licences (approximately 78%) were completed compared to previous years, although interestingly the NPS outperformed CRCs by seven percentage points.
The data about completion of sentence requirements does not allow meaningful comparison before and after the split since only total numbers are given and the overall caseload has fallen steadily over recent years.
Risk of Serious Recidivism
There appear to have been serious problems in introducing the new Risk of Serious Recidivism (RST) tool which serves essentially as a triage function to decide whether an offender is supervised by the NPS or CRC.
Data are only provided from mid-September when the RSR was applied to just 46% new cases to mid-October when the figure had risen to 57%.
There have also clearly been problems in the timely allocation of cases by the NPS to CRCs. The proportion of cases allocated to CRCs the day after sentence has risen from 54% – 65% from mid-September to mid-October. The figures for allocation two days after sentence over the same period have risen from 71% – 82%.
To be honest, the conclusions that can be drawn from this management information are limited:
Sickness rates are rising but overall staffing has increased too – although there are concerns about the rate at which staff are leaving the NPS.
The timeliness of court reports and order completion rates are relatively unchanged.
There has however been a drop in performance in submitting parole reports on time.
There have been major problems assessing new offenders and deciding which side of the new two-tier probation service should supervise them, although it appears that performance is improving rapidly.
This information cannot provide much insight about the quality of service being delivered under the new system. The best measure of this is, of course, reoffending rates but they will not be available until Autumn 2016. [Details of latest probation reoffending rates, the best for a decade can be found here.]
Since this information has only been published for the purpose of the Judicial Review, we will need to wait and see what the judge and respective legal teams make of it.