Readers who can remember the time before COVID-19 dominated our lives, may recollect that the team from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service responsible for the probation reform and workforce programmes got in touch with me earlier this year to ask whether I’d like to interview Jim Barton and Ian Barrow, the 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.
I decided that the most interesting way to proceed would be to engage readers in the process by asking you to suggest key issues and questions that you would like Jim and Ian to answer.
Thirty eight people submitted a total of 57 questions which I collated and summarised before sending them off to HMPPS a month ago. Unsurprisingly, the team has been working full out adapting the probation service’s response to coronavirus and I have to say I was very impressed to receive a response last Thursday. The HMPPS team has responded to most of the questions submitted.
I hope you find the answers helpful.
Thank you for inviting us to answer questions from your readers. Firstly, I just want to say something about the extreme and unsettling circumstances we are experiencing with the coronavirus. Reforming probation remains one of our top strategic priorities for the Criminal Justice System and the current issues we are facing don’t take away the need to stabilise and improve how probation protects the public and reduces reoffending.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our dedicated probation staff for their ongoing professionalism and commitment.
The unified model
How will the new model encourage local engagement generally and with sentencers?
Partnerships will have a single organisation to contact in their region about an offender. This will particularly improve the information-sharing between, for example: the police, judiciary, social care, health and probation services and allow them to work closer together on initiatives such as Integrated Offender Management (IOM), Restorative Justice (RJ) as well as co-produce new services where there are gaps in services.
We are improving national and local liaison arrangements to increase sentencers’ confidence in the range of interventions that will be made available. We are doing this by improving the quality of court assessments and court recommendations. We will be providing better recommendation processes for accredited programmes, to reduce the need to return unworkable orders to court. There will also be local sentencing options relevant to local needs and risks, provided by the Probation Delivery Partner and the Dynamic Framework. We will also ensure comprehensive risk and needs assessments are carried out, so we match individuals to appropriate interventions which best addresses their needs, improving the likelihood of compliance and rehabilitation. An important part of this will be sourcing appropriate local services through the Dynamic Framework, which will help us maintain existing relationships and build new ones with local charities and services.
How will you ensure partnerships are developed with other government departments, particularly in relation to health, education, skills, employment and housing?
There is a tremendous amount of work going on in the “gaps” between government departments now – that’s where Government knows real gains can be made. For example, over the last couple of years we’ve been working with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England to promote the use of Mental Health Treatment, Alcohol Treatment and Drug Rehabilitation requirements, diverting offenders away from custody and into community services that help sort the underlying causes of their criminality.
We are also currently exploring co-commissioning opportunities with other public bodies for services to be delivered through the Dynamic Framework. That might mean developing a peer mentor service for individuals on probation and supporting women’s centres. The funding mechanisms and new probation regions are deliberately geared to encourage greater working between partners and support smaller local organisations to get involved.
What is being done to ensure a level playing field for small and specialist voluntary organisations in the commissioning of resettlement and rehabilitative services?
One of the things that clearly didn’t work previously was how small and specialist organisations, voluntary or otherwise, could get involved. The issues are well-documented but we’ve had this in mind throughout when designing the new model.
We know that some individuals will require specific, tailored support and so within the model, we have developed the Dynamic Framework. This will allow us to use more local organisations in the delivery of tailored resettlement and rehabilitation interventions/services. For example, staff will have a far greater ability to select interventions from a range of organisations and the Dynamic Framework will give us the ability to maintain and enhance those local relationships. Our current intention is to commission all services on the framework at Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) level which will also help us to align and strengthen local relationships.
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?
The new resettlement model takes the best of both worlds by embedding assessments for resettlement into sentence management and by using a range of different providers to deliver pre-and-post release interventions. There is some excellent work being done by some incredibly dedicated and hardworking teams in Through-the-Gate and we will want those staff to be part of our future resettlement model.
Tell us about how you are incorporating findings of the Lammy Review
The Government accepted the recommendations of the Lammy Review and work has been going on across the criminal justice system to implement these over the last two years.
For the probation reform programme, this has included ensuring we have plans in place to add rigour to our data collection, monitoring and analysis, by looking at introducing, for example, an ‘equalities monitoring tool’ to assess the treatment of Black, Asian and ethnic minority offenders who are being managed on a community sentence or licence.
We also recognise that a greater proportion of Black and Asian people and people of other minority ethnic groups receive custodial sentences, with these groups markedly over-represented in the custodial population. They also receive a disproportionately high referral rate of Unpaid Work and a disproportionately low referral rate for Accredited Programmes. We are actively building in safeguards to ensure the advice we give sentencers in no way reflects biased or negative stereotypes associated with an individual’s ethnic background. And as with any major change, we’re in the process of completing an equality impact assessment which has shone a light on areas we need to improve further.
Will there be sufficient capacity and resources for management in the new model to work meaningfully with key stakeholders in substance misuse?
We know that many of our offenders’ experience dependency with drink or drugs and for some this can also trigger mental and physical health concerns. As well as working with our statutory and third sector partnerships on substance misuse, our Draft Target Operating Model, for example, supports the use of Mental Health Treatment, Alcohol Treatment Requirements (ATRs), Drug Rehabilitation Requirements (DRRs) and Reconnect case workers.
How will HMPPS be addressing areas around its workforce?
We know that workload for many probation officers is too high. We have more than 800 new probation officers currently in training who will make a real difference as they qualify. We are also working on a new plan to ensure we recruit sufficient staff, diversify the workforce, deliver more effective training, raise professional standards and properly recognise probation qualifications.
Our staff are the greatest asset to the probation system, and vital in ensuring that we keep the public safe and help turn around the lives of offenders. But we recognise the challenges facing those working within the system.
As well as ramping up our efforts to fill vacancies and meet future demand through recruitment, we will have a real focus on making sure our staff are supported to maintain their specialist skillset and progress their careers through a world-class and evidence-based learning and development offer. We also want to raise the profile of our dedicated workforce, ensuring that staff are recognised for the crucial and skilled work they undertake, while also rolling out a series of initiatives focusing on enhancing their wellbeing.
How will CRC and NPS offender managers be brought back together?
The 12 Probation Regions have been designed around our partnerships. Primarily this means mirroring police force boundaries. Each region has a director – all 12 have been in post from 1 April (some are existing NPS regional directors). They have responsibility for the transition in their region. We’ve set up a board in each region to oversee the transition and appointed specific people in the programme to manage the transition in each area. Their jobs will be to ensure that we integrate CRCs and NPS where identified as seamlessly as possible. We are also working on the many practical elements that this involves, such as estates, IT and pay and conditions for staff.
We know that the integration of NPS and CRC offender management teams will not happen overnight. The experience in Wales (where offender management was integrated in December 2019) has evidenced the importance of giving space and time before we start to blend caseloads. We are looking at what training and support we can provide to both NPS and CRC offender managers before the transition in June 2021 to address any gaps in experience caused by the current division of work.
Will data about offenders in employment, training and education be extended to people supervised on prison release as well as those on community supervision?
Yes, our plan is to increase our use of data and improve our recording of data to best support the probation and prison workforce and those under our supervision or on licence.
What steps are being taken to improve the computer systems and data sharing?
Investing, upgrading and improving our systems is an integral part of the plans for our future Probation System. We need to provide our staff with smarter ways of working. We believe this will support both our workforce and those who are in our supervision. We do not under-estimate the importance of effective communication and the smart use of data gathering and sharing across the Probation System.
We have made a strenuous effort to learn from what has and hasn’t worked to date, listening to the concerns and suggestions from our practitioners and stakeholders.
The new model will ensure the delivery of sentence management by a single organisation. The 12 new probation regions will work with partners to deliver effective and innovative rehabilitation services, modernise out estate and technology to bring positive change and support our people in being their best.