Concerns over probation pre-sentence reports

HMI Probation research into pre-sentence information and advice highlights concerns about oral reports.

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Focus on speed has reduced quality

Last week (20 August 2020), the probation inspectorate published its latest research and analysis bulletin looking into: The quality of pre-sentence information and advice provided to courts.

In these bulletins, HMIP aggregates the data collected in its area reports (in this case inspections of seven NPS divisions between June 2018 and 2019) to look for underlaying trends. Analysis of 802 pre-sentence reports led to the following main conclusions:

  • In seven in ten cases, the pre-sentence information and advice was judged to be sufficiently analytical and personalised to the service user, supporting the court’s decision-making. Across the underpinning prompt questions, positive judgements ranged from 66% for considering the impact of the offence(s) on known/identifiable victims (with victim statements and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) documents not always available to report writers) to 87% for the service user being meaningfully involved.
  • The quality of pre-sentence information and advice varied by type of report; nearly all of the standard delivery reports were judged to be sufficiently analytical and personalised to the service user, but this dropped to about two in three of the oral reports.
  • Reports were less likely to be judged sufficiently analytical and personalised for those with a high likelihood of reoffending. These service users tend to have multiple and complex needs, requiring careful consideration to be given to the most appropriate interventions and how they can be integrated into a coherent and holistic programme of work.
  • The pre-sentence advice was more likely to be judged sufficient when it had drawn appropriately upon available sources of information and it had considered factors related to both risk of harm and the likelihood of reoffending. A positive response to these prompts was least likely for oral reports. Information from other agencies could not always be shared in the time necessary to be included in these reports, and there was less time for report authors to consider and reflect upon the information to hand. 
  • The pre-sentence advice was more likely to be judged sufficient when the final proposal was deemed appropriate and there was a sufficient record of the advice and the reasoning. Once again, a positive response to these prompts was least likely for oral reports. In some cases, it was clear that insufficient attention had been given to the appropriateness of accredited programmes or other treatment requirements.

 

The failings of oral reports

The research bulletin clearly highlights that oral reports are, unsurprisingly, of considerably lower quality than written reports, despite now constituting a majority of all reports (58% in 2018):

Recent years have seen a focus on speed and timeliness, with a shift from standard delivery reports to oral reports, and an NPS performance metric measuring the percentage of reports completed within the timescales set by the court. The findings in this bulletin clearly demonstrate that the focus upon speed and timeliness has had an impact upon quality. Notably, inspectors were less likely to judge that the pre-sentence information and advice was sufficiently analytical and personalised to the service user when an oral report was delivered.
Responses to the underpinning prompt questions reveal a number of issues with oral reports. They were less likely to have drawn sufficiently upon available sources of information, with information from other agencies not always shared in the time necessary to be included in the reports. They were less likely to have considered factors related to both risk of harm and the likelihood of reoffending, with less time for report authors to consider and reflect upon the information which was available. Unsurprisingly, the final proposal was then less likely to be deemed sufficient, and there was less likely to be a sufficient record of the advice and the reasoning. In some cases, it was clear that insufficient attention had been given to the appropriateness of accredited programmes or other treatment requirements.

 

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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One Response

  1. What many don’t seem to understand is that the PSR also informs one’s very first OASys (PSR OASys), which ultimately drives one’s case allocation. If the PSR is out of whack, so will be the OASys and, ultimately so will be one’s case allocation. As a direct result of this, an individual may find themselves dealing with the tyrannical NPS when, if the true facts were established [and recorded correctly], they could have been under the care of a CRC.

    Unconscious biases abound!

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