Ground-breaking new research by HM Inspectorate of Probation, analysing thousands of probation cases, has found that higher-quality probation supervision leads to significantly better sentence completion rates and reduced reoffending.
The Inspectorate’s latest Research and Analysis Bulletins – compiled by the organisation’s own specialist research team – looked at what progress has been made in the past four years and where improvements can be made.
For cases getting high-quality probation supervision, the sentence completion rate was 24 percentage points higher, and the reoffending rate was 14 percentage points lower than for cases where supervision was judged to be inadequate by our inspectors.
The three reports are available on the HM Inspectorate of Probation website. They examined:
- The role of engagement (between probation officers and people on probation) for positive outcomes in probation
- The links between probation supervision and positive outcomes – early progress
- The links between probation supervision and positive outcomes – completion and proven reoffending
This blog post focuses on the third of these publications, looking at the links between probation supervision and sentence completion and, most critically, reoffending rates.
When designing its inspection programmes, HMIP applied a logic model approach and focused its inspection standards upon those key ‘inputs’ and ‘activities’ which are the drivers of positive outcomes. Getting to the heart of current probation delivery through on-site inspection is where the inspectorate believes it can add most value – based on the independence and the expertise/experience of inspectors, it aims to focus on the quality of work with individual people on probation.
A guiding principle for inspectorate standards frameworks is to be evidence-informed, reflecting the latest evidence (from research and inspection) on what contributes to effective service delivery and positive outcomes, exemplifying what good probation work looks like.
This research bulletin seeks to achieve two aims:
- To help validate the inspection standards and the logic model,
- To examine the relationships between inspectors’ judgements regarding the quality of delivery and later output/outcome measures in the form of sentence completion and proven reoffending.
The findings are based upon data collected from inspections of probation providers completed between June 2018 and June 2019, covering all of the then 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the seven National Probation Service (NPS) divisions. Inspectors assessed individual cases and interviewed probation professionals about these cases. The aggregated inspection dataset has been matched with probation terminations data from the nDelius case management system (for the community sentence cases) and with proven reoffending measures from an extract of the Police National Computer (PNC) database (for all cases). The analysis of the linked data is summarised in the following figure.
The analysis revealed independently significant associations between inspectors’ judgements regarding the quality of implementation/delivery and both sentence completion and proven reoffending. In those cases where inspectors judged that the delivery both engaged the person on probation and supported their desistance, the sentence completion rate was 24 percentage points higher and the reoffending rate was 14 percentage points lower compared to those cases where both judgements were negative. Differences were found across the assessed likelihood of reoffending levels (calculated using demographic and offending variables).
For those who had reoffended, the inspectorate’s research team also found significant reductions in the frequency of reoffending when probation delivery was of a high-quality nature; reductions rather than total cessation can be more realistic for those with the most entrenched offending histories and behaviours.
This is excellent news, in a nutshell it provides initial evidence that probation supervision done well makes a significant positive difference. Of course, the link is not strictly causal; it could be argued that in many cases probation officers are able to provide a better service to those who are interested and motivated to change. Nevertheless, a drop in reoffending rates of 14 percentage points is far greater than any other intervention that has been evaluated.
Clearly high quality probation work needs resources – the primary one of which is probation officer time to build a trusting relationship. This resource has clearly been missing from the service over recent years as area probation inspection results make only too clear.
The inspectorate research team intends to refine their methodology introducing a severity of reoffending measure, considering whether high-quality probation delivery assists with moves from more serious or harmful offending to relatively less serious forms of offending. They also intend to develop appropriate measures for capturing incremental changes, recognising that desistance can be a gradual, non-linear process.
I understand the inspectorate intends to re-run this analysis with up-to-date data from post-unification inspections once sufficient time has passed to allow reoffending measures to be recorded. We eagerly await subsequent work in this area.