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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

More details on the future of probation

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Detail of the consultation document on the future of the probation system which asks for responses to 17 key questions by 21 September.

Strengthening probation, building confidence

Having announced the end of Transforming Rehabilitation as we know it:

  • Offender management on low and medium risk offenders is to be transferred to the National Probation Service in Wales.
  • The CRC contracts are being cut short with the end date being brought forwards from 2022 to 2020.
  • CRCs will now be aligned with the NPS areas (making 10 English probation regions) and a new procurement exercise will shortly be launched with the expectation that more voluntary sector organisations will be involved in delivering interventions and unpaid work – an ambition unrealised in the original TR procurement exercise.
  • Recognising current under-performance, the MoJ will put additional money into contracts for through-the-gate work in particular.

The MoJ has today published a consultation document entitled “Strengthening probation, building confidence.” The document starts by acknowledging TR’s failures:

We know, however, that it has been challenging to fully realise the vision of these reforms. It is clear from our own assessments, and those of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMI Probation) and the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, that in a number of areas the quality of probation services being delivered is falling short of our expectations.

The MoJ has committed to shore up the current contracts by investing a further £22m per year but also to end the contracts two years early in 2020. The MoJ then:

intends to make a number of improvements to CRC services now and adjust the baseline year against which we compare performance on frequency of reoffending so this better reflects the performance of providers since contracts began.

The document then turns to the post-2020 future where the MoJ hopes to “create a more integrated and collaborative probation system” and sets out 19 primary objectives which are reproduced below.

To improve the supervision and management of offenders we will:

  • improve the assessment of offenders by reviewing processes and ensuring, as far as is practicable, a thorough and good quality assessment is built upon and follows an offender throughout their sentence;
  • introduce minimum standards specifying the form and frequency of contact between offenders and their responsible officer; (We intend to amend current CRC contracts so that all providers offer face-to-face meetings with offenders at least monthly.)
  • improve the delivery of unpaid work to ensure there are sufficient placements available for offenders and that these promote employment-related skills; and
  • explore options to make post-sentence supervision more proportionate to an individual’s sentence and their rehabilitative needs.

To improve the rehabilitation of offenders we will:

  • enhance the quality of advice to court provided by the NPS so that it more effectively informs sentencing decisions, and promote engagement between courts and CRCs to improve judicial confidence;
  • define the range and quality of services to be delivered as part of a rehabilitation activity requirement, and embed these in future contracts and service levels;
  • increase the use of community sentences that include drug, alcohol or mental health treatment requirements by testing a protocol in five areas across England;
  • invest in tailored provision for female offenders; and
  • improve the data we collect and publish on offenders’ protected characteristics.

To improve the resettlement of individuals leaving prison we will:

  • explore options for a future model of resettlement which puts offender managers in prison and the community at the heart of the process, and consider the resettlement services that may be required to support offenders; 
  • We also plan to invest an additional £22m per annum now to improve current through-the-gate provision) and • bring key departments together to tackle the barriers to rehabilitation through a cross-government Reducing Reoffending Board.

To enhance the skills and capability of the probation workforce we will:

  • develop a workforce strategy which ensures providers can recruit and develop the staff they need to deliver quality probation services; and
  • support staff to build careers in probation by defining more clearly the transferable skills and competencies of responsible officers, and introduce a professional register.

To improve system integration we will:

  • create 10 probation regions in England and configure service delivery within each area, with a senior HMPPS leader responsible for joining up services and working with stakeholders;
  • invest in HMPPS digital services to simplify data access and exchange and deliver improvements to IT systems; and
  • explore options for the commissioning of rehabilitation and resettlement services which promote engagement and collaboration with local partners, and facilitate greater voluntary sector involvement in the delivery of probation services.

To improve how probation works with partners we will:

  •  work with voluntary sector organisations, philanthropic trust funders and social finance organisations to explore how different approaches to commissioning could promote their increased involvement in the delivery of services to offenders;
  • engage with Police and Crime Commissioners to consider how they can play a greater role in shaping rehabilitation and resettlement services and improving local collaboration with statutory agencies; and
  • work with London and Greater Manchester as part of existing devolution deals to co-design future probation services.

To drive performance improvement in the probation system we will:

  • explore options for future contracts that would pay providers to deliver core services while retaining incentives for innovation and performance improvement;
  • explore options for the key performance outcomes and measures that probation providers should be judged against in future contracts and service level agreements; and
  • support HMI Probation to implement its new inspection framework which will see providers inspected and rated annually.

Consultation questions

The consultation document asks for views on 17 different issues by 21 September 2018. The full list is reproduced below:

  • Question 1: What steps could we take to improve the continuity of supervision throughout an offender’s sentence?
  • Question 2: What frequency of contact between offenders and offender managers is most effective to promote purposeful engagement? How should this vary during a period of supervision, and in which circumstances are alternatives to face-to-face meetings appropriate? Do you have evidence to support your views?
  • Question 3: How can we promote unpaid work schemes which both make reparation to communities and equip offenders with employment-related skills and experience?
  • Question 4: What changes should we make to post-sentence supervision arrangements to make them more proportionate and improve rehabilitative outcomes? (You may wish to refer to your answer to question 2.)
  • Question 5: What further steps could we take to improve the effectiveness of pre-sentence advice and ensure it contains information on probation providers’ services?
  • Question 6: What steps could we take to improve engagement between courts and CRCs?
  • Question 7: How else might we strengthen confidence in community sentences?
  • Question 8: How can we ensure that the particular needs and vulnerabilities of different cohorts of offenders are better met by probation? Do you have evidence to support your proposals?
  • Question 9: How could future resettlement services better meets the needs of offenders serving short custodial sentences?
  • Question 10: Which skills, training or competencies do you think are essential for responsible officers authorised to deliver probation services, and how do you think these differ depending on the types of offenders staff are working with?
  • Question 11: How would you see a national professional register operating across all providers – both public and private sector, and including agency staff – and what information should it capture?
  • Question 12: Do you agree that changes to the structure and leadership of probation areas are sufficient to achieve integration across all providers of probation services?
  • Question 13: How can probation providers effectively secure access to the range of rehabilitation services they require for offenders, and how can key local partners contribute to achieving this?
  • Question 14: How can we better engage voluntary sector providers in the design and delivery of rehabilitation and resettlement services for offenders in the community?
  • Question 15: How can we support greater engagement between PCCs and probation providers, including increased co-commissioning of services?
  • Question 16: How can we ensure that arrangements for commissioning rehabilitation and resettlement services in Wales involve key partners, complement existing arrangements and reflect providers’ skills and capabilities?
  • Question 17: What should our key measures of success be for probation providers, and how can we effectively encourage the right focus on those outcomes and on the quality of services?

The closing date for responses is 21 September and they should be sent via here.

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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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