Earlier today (14 June 2019), Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service published more information on the next iteration of the “probation reform programme” with a document entitled: The Proposed Future Model for Probation: A Draft Operating Blueprint.
The Blueprint sets out more detail on what the probation system will look like once CRC contracts come to an end in Spring 2021 and it builds on the proposals set out in the consultation response. HMPPS says the model in the Blueprint will be further refined over the next few months.
The summary included in the blueprint pretty much replicates the Justice Secretary’s announcement of last month:
- Responsibility for offender management returns to the NPS.
- There will be ten NPS regions in England and one region in Wales, each to be overseen by a regional probation director.
- There will be new national standards for offender management which focus on the importance of the quality of offender engagement and the form and frequency of contact with offenders, along with clear frameworks for staffing ratios and caseloads.
- NPS staff will be responsible for co-ordinating resettlement.
- There will still be considerable outsourcing with Unpaid Work and Accredited Programmes tendered out on a regional basis to “Innovation Partners” and resettlement and other (non-accredited) interventions commissioned by a new “Dynamic Framework”.
- HMPPS is also committed to new legislation to recognise probation work as a professional vocation with a regulatory framework.
- The blueprint also pledges new performances measures for both the NPS and new private/voluntary sector providers.
- Finally, there is a commitment to a better IT system.
There is more detailed information on 12 topic areas:
- Future Structures, Probation Regions, and the Commissioning and Contracting of Services.
- Regional Co-ordination Function
- Advice to Courts
- Offender Management
- Unpaid Work
- Resettlement Model
- Accredited Programmes
- Cohorts and Vulnerable Offenders
- Digital and Technology
- Performance Framework
In this post, I intend to share information from the first three of these topics, future blog posts will share information from the other nine topics.
Structures, regions & commissioning/contracting
Each Regional Probation Director will be supported by a new regional management structure that brings together the line management of NPS operational leaders, commissioning and contract management of private and voluntary sector providers of probation services, performance and quality assurance, business services and stakeholder engagement. The aim is to support a more integrated approach across public, private and voluntary sector providers of probation services. Each regional director will be responsible for meeting the Public-Sector Equality Duty and delivering the relevant recommendations of the Lammy Review and the Female Offender Strategy. To that end, each region will have a dedicated Equalities Manager. This structure is set out in the graphic below.
The commissioning of services via the Dynamic Framework will be done by the HMPPS central Probation Reform Programme team for the start of the new system before being devolved to regional directors.
This section is particularly laden with government jargon and management speak and I found it hard to clarify exactly what it means. Apologies for this example:
“A Regional Co-ordination Function is predicated on the Dynamic Framework and the regional oversight of multiple contracts delivered on a regional and sub-regional footprint. Working in an Intelligent Customer capacity, it will actively co-ordinate supply and demand to ensure the Responsible Officer can have access to the right services at the right time.”
The new system is clearly intended to ensure that offender managers/responsible officers can access any service that is required for the supervision and support of any offender. There is an expectation that these services will be both local and able to be accessed promptly.
So far, so good. It is not, however, clear to me how having 10 big English regions will make it easier to achieve this. As far as I can see, the East of England region, for example, includes Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk — it will be no easy task for one person to co-ordinate accommodation, ETE, substance misuse services etc. for everyone across this patch.
Advice to courts
The “Advice to Courts” section has five key design principles:
- Advice to Court functions will continue to sit alongside existing NPS responsibilities which include the preparation of PSRs, review and enforcement proceedings for all offenders.
- We are committed to improving the quality of our advice to courts and PSRs to ensure proposals target specific interventions and treatment requirements that will facilitate reduced reoffending.
- We want to support efforts to reduce the use of short term custodial sentences by ensuring effective targeting of fuller reports for complex cases including women, black, Asian and minority ethnic offenders (BAME) or those at greater risk of short term imprisonment.
- We will review the training for staff in court to ensure that those who represent the Probation Service are confident in the advice they provide and increase sentencers’ confidence in community sentence requirements known to be more effective at reducing reoffending.
- We want to improve local and national court liaison arrangements so that sentencers are confident about probation services and the delivery of community sentences; are aware of the range of effective interventions being delivered or commissioned by probation and are assured of the quality and effectiveness of those services.
To my mind, this last principle will be the hardest to achieve since accredited programmes and Unpaid Work will continue to be outsourced with the inevitable consequence that NPS court staff will have no detailed operational knowledge of them.
Another noteworthy issue in this section is a commitment to reduce the the percentage of oral reports on women, BAME offenders and those at risk of short-term imprisonment in order to “improve the quality of assessments, identification of offending related needs and the targeting to appropriate interventions”.