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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

The Probation Institute’s Justice priorities

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Splitting up responsibility for offender management has created a divide between a small national probation service and the 21 CRCs leading a huge increase in bureaucracy and growing professional tensions. The probation profession is potentially being undermined as there is no longer a requirement for CRCs to use staff with recognised probation qualifications. They no longer have to employ qualified probation officers to manage complex cases.

Sue Hall is a founder member of the Probation Institute and Vice President of the Confederation of European Probation. She was Chief Executive of the West Yorkshire Probation Trust and Chair of the Probation Chiefs Association until 2014.   So she is particularly well placed to contribute to this guest blog series setting out the top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary. You can follow @ProbInstitute and @SueHall14 on Twitter.

If I were Justice Secretary

If I were Justice Secretary, I would recognise that I faced real challenges in relation to every part of criminal justice.  A series of policy decisions driven by the need to find savings and a belief in the private sector has resulted in a more complex system, one which is harder to explain and operate. A new vision for the criminal justice system is needed which is based on ethics, evidence and experience, which has public confidence and which can win back the hearts and minds of criminal justice professionals – sentencers, probation staff, prison staff, lawyers.

It is surprising that crime and justice have not formed a major plank of electoral campaigning and the public is not aware of the profound way offender supervision is being changed.  As Justice Secretary I would work with key stakeholders to develop a coherent vision for an integrated and local justice system. A good starting point would be revisit the Justice Committee’s 2010 report “Cutting crime: the case for justice reinvestment“.

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An integrated and professional probation service

A strong and fair justice system needs a probation service, which is integrated and locally accountable. ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ is still bedding in, but there are signs of fragmentation with the 8 different owners of the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) separately developing their own models for managing medium and lower risk offenders. Splitting up responsibility for offender management has created a divide between a small national probation service and the 21 CRCs leading a huge increase in bureaucracy and growing professional tensions.

The probation profession is potentially being undermined as there is no longer a requirement for CRCs to use staff with recognised probation qualifications.  They no longer have to employ qualified probation officers to manage complex cases.

As Justice Secretary I would have to accept that contracts had been let with new providers, but I would want an urgent review of the models being implemented. I would want to look again at how the supervision of offenders can be properly integrated and made accountable at a local level.  I would also want to ensure high and consistent professional standards across all providers backed up by a register of probation staff with approved qualifications.

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Make savings through a new and more targeted role for prisons

The need for further savings remains a political imperative, but salami slicing existing services is not the answer. Let’s learn from some of our European neighbours and release resources through significantly reducing the prison population.

The current prison population stands at over 85,000. Whilst there is a short-term problem of ensuring the prisons are adequately staffed with properly trained staff to ensure a decent and humane regime, there is a crucial longer term need for a strategy which rethinks the role of prisons in our society.

We have to ask ourselves why we have an imprisonment rate of 149 per 100,000 population compared to our near neighbours in Europe – Germany (76), and the Netherlands (75).  Are we so much more lawless and crime-ridden than these countries that we have to have a rate of imprisonment that is nearly twice as high?  In both of these countries the prison population is falling. How has this been achieved and are there lessons for the UK?

I would want to see if evidence from other jurisdictions can help us develop a new strategy for the sentencing and management of offenders and reduce the prison population.

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Evidence led policy

This brings me to my third theme – the need for policy to be based on good evidence, research and testing. The Justice Committee recently criticised the speed at which the legal aid reforms had been brought in which had militated against ‘a research-based and well structured programme of change’ and which had harmed ‘access to justice for some litigants’.

The Magistrates Association have recently warned that the new requirement for court fees of between £150-£1200 to be paid by convicted defendants did not appear to have not properly thought through and might have unforeseen negative consequences.

Unpicking or managing the consequences of poorly designed and hastily implemented policies is both wasteful and undermines the reputation of a proud criminal justice system.

As Justice Secretary I would want to build solid foundations for the future based on robust research and evidence and I would want to implement carefully to ensure public benefit as well as value for money.

 

The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be. Please use the comments section below or follow the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #nextGrayling


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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.

6 Responses

  1. Sue Hall has no credibility in my opinion. Her attempt to speak for probation is an insult to all probation officers, past and present.

    Why? Because this is the same Sue Hall whom as a Probation Chief Officer did nothing to oppose or prevent the privatisation of probation.

    Instead ask her why the probation institute has become a Trojan horse for government ideology?, or how much was her enhanced voluntary redundancy package?

    Why not have a few probation officers involved in this Blog series? You know, the people on the frontline doing the actual work.

  2. Fair point although Jim Brown and NAPO have featured in the series. Alex Cavendish (@PrisonUK) social anthropologist and ex prisoner will be putting a service user viewpoint on polling day.

  3. How about a probation admin worker, a probation service officer, a few more probation officers, a senior probation officer? TR was brought in with the likes of Sue Hall and all the silent probation chief officers, many whom received handsome redundancy/retirement packages that staff on the frontline were not offered.

    I’ll return for the blog by an “ex prisoner and service user”. Can you explain the difference between an ex prisoner and a service user. I’ve never heard a prisoner refer to themselves as a “service user”. Maybe the suggestion is that a prisoner becomes a service user at point of release on licence, but then this would suggest there is no “service” provided by probation officers prior to release. At what point does he stop being an “ex prisoner”?

    To be honest I’m not sure how interested I am in an ex prisoner speaking about prison or an ex chief officer talking about probation. Wouldn’t it be strange if parents picked schools for their children by speaking to ex pupils who hated the curriculum and an old head teacher who left with a massive retirement package and joined a non teaching organisation?

    If I were Lord Chancellor I’d start by following the rule of law, which Grayling finds difficult to do. I’d propose that all future Lord Chancellors are legally trained and have practice experience of the CJS. Then I’d outline the failings of my predecessor and reverse TR and the privatisation of the probation service. The privateers have already possibly breached contracts with failure to commence Through the gate provisions, failing to recruit enough staff to deliver private probation services, failing to implement the promised new IT systems, the news that one contractor has pulled out, the news of 700 redundancies, etc.

    Moving forward I’d formally acknowledge that ‘what works’ worked and put rehabilitation back into the core values and outcomes of prisons and probation. NOMS would be split, if not disbanded, and prisons and probation would become separate agencies in their own right and headed by their own minister and team. As Lord Ramsbotham said, the problem with the ridiculous Noms is that it has had no probation officers in senior positions. In my future the expectation would be that those making decisions on probation have practice experience of probation, and the same for prisons.

    On the point of prisons I’d be crystal clear that these worsened under my predecessor. Prisons should be reserved for the most serious and repeat offenders, resourced and staffed appropriately. The only privatisation of prisons should be cleaning contracts, utilities, provisions and the like, but not entire prisons. As probation showed the world until TR, a healthily resourced public service provides results. With an emphasis on use of rehabilitation and community sentences it would be possible to reduce the prison population. Excess prison places would increase ability for resettlement prisons in local areas to work. Prisons would be therapeutic and resourced so that released prisoners have the tools to go straight first time around. This means all released prisoners supervised by probation, paid jobs for those on probation with incentives for employers to make it happen, resources for housing, health and educational agencies to require those in prison and on probation are received as a priority.

    Finally, probation training would be returned to its social work roots. This would either be a requirement to complete a DipSW or for the previous TPO training programme to be reinstated with the addition of a social work element to its degree programme. It is important to have, primarily, qualified probation officers working with offenders in prison and on probation, and with victims. A new unbiased probation institute would be devised with a core responsibility to ratify the training, professionalism and continuous development of probation officers and probation training providers. It would also manage a professional register for probation officers. And we’ll send them out into the community to speak in schools, youth clubs, social clubs, pubs, in offices, at events, because prevention is better than a cure.

    Then I’d think about what I’d do on my second day as Lord Chancellor. Maybe bash the heads together of the judiciary, legal bar, CPS, prisons, probation, and work out how we’ll follow the format of progressive countries where all work together.

  4. Thanks very much for taking the time to write such a comprehensive comment which is essentially a (very welcome) contribution to the series itself.
    I can see your point about getting probation staff of different roles to contribute and that would have been an interesting way to go. As it happens, I set out from a different starting point, looking to get a wide range of views from agencies across the criminal justice system.
    By the way, I too would love to see probation get back out into the community instead of being (mainly) stuck behind desks as it has been for the last 15 years.

  5. Well said Probation Officer – I did my reply in a Tweet but essentially agreed with you.

    I recall representing & speaking publicly for probation at all sorts of events – schools – invited talks – County Shows – careers conventions up to about 1989 when I moved into ILPS where there was more management and less personal responsibility on the actual probation officers for contact with the public and also sentencers.

    Far too many folk have used probation management & specialist project work to get away from the front-line.

    ALL managers should be front-line practitioners as well – such a model could work – up until the mid 1980s – I saw, even ACPO’s hold on to a few cases and also occasionally do a court duty although by then many seemed frightened of it – let me tell you about the day a a new CPO spent with me visiting landlords and other key people in my then semi rural patch of Essex (The Dengie Hundred)

    I said – don’t touch the parrot – he gave me a funny look and when the moment came- held his hand out and said ‘Pretty Polly’ and snap!

    No one knows how IT is TODAY – except those who are at the front-line today – working amidst the current regulations and culture with lawyers and sentencers practising today and clients, who cannot manage to maintain a mobile phone contract – or are in prison & have a phone stuffed up their back passage!

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