This post is based on a recent report published by the MoJ, the first publication from a longitudinal study of offenders who started Community Orders between October 2009 and December 2010. For some reason, I could only find a summary on the MoJ site.
The Offender Management Community Cohort Study
This is a rich and detailed report and readers interested in community sentences are encouraged to read it in full.
I just wanted to pick out a couple of salient points relevant to those who are thinking about delivering reducing reoffending services in new ways as a result of the Transforming Rehabilitation project.
The report’s authors, Jack Cattell, Alan Mackie, Yvette Prestage and Martin Wood, confirmed that most offenders supervised by the probation service have high levels of need as the following table shows:
Assessment is a continuous process
The authors found that Offender Managers used the formal assessment process (OASys) to target those more at risk of reoffending and to manage and plan sentences but that they also appeared to exercise their professional judgement to either prioritise among formally identified risks or identify other risks not captured by formal assessment.
This pragmatic approach was judged to be an appropriate response to the complex needs of offenders, although it was also determined by the availability of local services. The two needs most frequently addressed in sentence plans were substance misuse and accommodation.
Interestingly, the authors noted that assessment of some needs (particularly “Attitudes” and education and training) tended to be more accurate later in the community sentence, when the Offender Manager had developed a relationship with the person they were supervising.
Similarly, offenders’ feedback on their Community Order was particularly positive when they perceived that the Offender Manager understood their needs.
There seem to be two key lessons to be drawn from this research for those planning new models of service delivery:
- There will be dangers if the Community Rehabilitation Companies rely overmuch on the initial assessment of needs conducted by a probation officer in the Public Sector Probation Service. Needs inevitably change over time and a more in-depth assessment can be developed over time with the active involvement of the service user.
- Positive relationships are key to successful Community Orders.