What you wanted to know about the new probation system
Last week, I invited readers to submit questions to Jim Barton and Ian Barrow, the HMPPS civil servants leading the changes to the probation service. Jim is the Senior Responsible Officer for the Probation Reform Programme while Ian is the SRO for the Probation Workforce Programme.
Thirty eight individuals submitted a total of 57 questions (one person sent in six different questions) on a wide range of topics. People who submitted questions represented different parts of the probation sector with responses from academics, voluntary and community sector organisations working with offenders, commissioners, magistrates and probation practitioners working for both the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies. Some people asked to be anonymous and others did not provide a name, so I have not attributed any of the questions to a named individual.
In this blog post, I share some analysis of these questions and set out the ones that I have chosen to forward onto HMPPS.
I was rather apprehensive about the selection process but in the end, it turned out to be relatively straightforward.
In order to make the process manageable and ensure that the responses were accessible to the majority of people who read this blog on their phones, I have cut down the number of questions and sought to prioritise the most common issues.
I have also split the questions into two sections: the first relating to the model (for which an updated draft Target Operation Model was published last week which can be found here) and the second relating to workforce issues. I will publish the responses to these two sets of issues in separate blog posts which will hopefully aid all of our comprehension of the main issues.
Unsurprisingly, a number of people asked similar questions around key topics. In these cases, I have usually chosen one question as representative of an issue which readers wanted more information on, or, more frequently, combined one or more questions on the same topic to ensure that everyone’s concerns were responded to.
Where an individual submitted several questions, I have felt more able to exclude some of them, especially if they were on a common theme.
A very small minority of questions were rhetorical and didn’t seek an answer that would provide any more information to the sector.
In order to keep the process as transparent as possible, I have uploaded a spreadsheet of all the questions submitted, completely unedited which I have also sent through to Jim and Ian. You can download the spreadsheet from the link below.
Questions about the model
As you will see, I have organised questions about the new probation model by topic.
The overall model
- How will the new model encourage local engagement?
- Will the MoJ publish a detailed breakdown of the expenditure on the new probation model, for the NPS, the contracts for Probation Delivery Partners and the amount of funds available for regional commissioning via the dynamic framework?
- Will the new structure facilitate effective engagement with sentences, both locally and nationally?
- How will the new body ensure partnership development with other government departments, particularly in relation to health, education, skills, employment and housing?
- How will the new model reduce the inertia and bureaucracy of the NPS?
- Why are the operating areas so big?, If the model aligned with PCC areas for everything (not just partner contracts), it would encourage engagement in local communities and a stronger local identity for staff and service users.
- What is being done to ensure a level playing field for small and specialist voluntary organisations in the commissioning of resettlement and rehabilitative services? Can the MoJ offer any assurance that the past performance of prime providers (i.e. failure to properly engage the third sector as partners) will be taken into account during the upcoming procurement process and/or that there will be an expectation of lead providers to sub-contract?
- How will you ensure that charities that are not in contractual funding arrangements with HMPPS will not have their work de-prioritised?
- Will the new model still include contracts with financial incentives, despite the widescale criticism of the PbR approach in TR?
- Could all the monies spent on OSAG, HMIP and other forms of inspections and contract management be reduced through a merger into one quality regime; with resultant savings diverted to the front line?
- Where will Through-The-Gate sit in the new model, will it be prison-or community-based? Given the success of some of the new ETTG schemes, will these be preserved? Will current TTG staff have a role in the future model?
- How will the new model address the concerns of the Lammy Review and will an equality impact assessment for the new model be published?
- What gender specific framework will be implemented for women under probation? How will plans to deliver the female offender strategy and commission specialist women’s organisations be affected by the fact that no further funding to support the strategy’s aspirations has been announced by MoJ?
- How will the new model specifically support the needs of different groups of service users, in particular:
- Young Adult Offenders
- Offenders with learning disabilities or autism
- Offenders (particularly women) with Personality Disorder?
- The number of probation clients accessing structured or accredited substance misuse programmes has plummeted in the last decade. How will the current reforms reverse that trend?
- Will there be sufficient capacity and resources for management in the new model to work meaningfully with key stakeholders in substance misuse?
Questions about workforce
- How will HMPPS address the issues of low staff numbers, work overload and staff burnout?
- What is going to be done about staff retention? The largest number of questions focused on concerns about losing experienced staff and the difficulties in running an effective probation service with large numbers of new recruits and whether new pathway could be created for experience probation staff to re-enter the service.
- How will CRC and NPS offender managers be brought back together, given that models of delivery across the country are so different?
- Does the Target Operating Model allow for the introduction of successful innovation from CRC’s into the NPS, including examples of effective software and technology?
- Similarly, can the improvements made by a number of CRC’s to offender assessment result in an improved and simplified OASys described by one questioner as “a 48 page behemoth that fills assessors with dread each time one is opened”?
- What arrangements will be made, upon amalgamation, for all CRC staff who are working towards a qualification or apprenticeship?
- Is there enough recent research to support the mandated continuation of accredited programmes like Thinking skills and BBR? When will the planned impact evaluation of Building Better Relationships and Partner Link be carried out and how will the results from this feed into Probation Delivery Partner procurement?
- Will data about offenders in employment, training and education be extended to people supervised on prison release as well as those on community supervision
- What will be the roles of specialist providers and probation staff in delivering interventions and supervision in custody and released to sex offenders?
- What plans are therefore an improved quality assurance system for probation?
- What steps are being taken to improve the computer systems and data available to NPS, delivery partners and electronic monitoring services?
- How can the processes for communicating information to Victim Liaison Officers be improved?
I sent these questions through to HMPPS last Monday and hope to be able to publish the answers at the end of this week or the start of next.