Lack of an evidence base
A new (7 February 2017) report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies for the Probation Institute profiles and analyses the current state of services for veterans on probation in England and Wales.
Entitled “Profile of provision for armed forces veterans under probation supervision”, the report is based on focus groups with 83 individuals from NOMS, NPS, CRCs, voluntary sector providers and the health service.
The report was limited by a lack of recent information about the number of veterans in contact with the probation service with reliable data going back to 2009. From July 2016, a new system was implemented which meant that all probationers should be routinely asked about any military experience.
Services available to ex-forces personnel supervised in the community are delivered by organisations in the probation, health, charity and private sectors. Despite the aspirations of the Phillips Review, there is currently no consistent, national strategy guiding provision for veterans on probation. Whilst there is national coordination of services for veterans as a whole in the health sector, and national
coverage of service charities, the probation landscape is characterised by uneven development, with tailored services ranging from relatively well established, to recently operational, through to no identified existing provision.
The report identified two types of veterans services; those provided by CRCs in-house and those sub-contracted. It found three examples of sub-contracted services, mainly focused on mentoring support and three services provided in-house. The report also notes that there are a number of services for veterans in contact with any stage of the criminal justice system and a national specialist employability service run by the National Offender Management Service. The NOMS Co-Financing Organisation runs regional contracts with providers of employability services for offenders who find it difficult to engage with mainstream services, and the main contractor in each region has spot purchasing or subcontracting arrangements with armed forces charities to deal with veterans on their caseloads.
A key finding of the report is that there remains much work to be done before the coherent developments foreshadowed by the will have been put in place. The proper identification of armed services veterans has only recently begun and the information that this will produce will not appear for some time.
The development of services remains patchy and there is some way to go before consistent coordination is achieved. In part it seems that services are in effect waiting on the establishment of a fully worked out national strategy. Some services remain legacies of the period before Transforming Rehabilitation; some have been created in its aftermath as part of an evolving market, in which notable initiatives have been started but not in a consistent fashion. Nor are the outcomes of current services as clear-cut as we would like to see. While the findings suggest there is potential for collaboration among probation, health services and the armed services charities, the future role and
organisation of interconnecting support services is an important dimension for renewed strategic development.
Developing a better future for veterans under probation supervision
The report acknowledges that current provision (like many specialist areas post-TR) is currently patchy with no clear strategic direction to address issues and improve practice. How the recent changes to NOMS will impact on this is not yet clear. The report ends with a clear recommendation for an evidence-based approach:
A new horizon for improved and extended services for veterans must include a strategic vision that combines research and development with a plan for funding services and support. It is crucial that knowledge and service development advance together. If a good evidence base is to be created that can inform investment, it is necessary for a clear needs assessment programme to be commissioned using the emerging identification data.
Once these needs are better understood it will be possible to explore service designs that look more relevant and to develop a number of projects that are more ambitious than most of the existing services and to assess their impact. The funding for such ‘horizonstretching’ work must then combine research and development strands.
It would be quicker, but too easy, to simply commission projects and then evaluate them; instead the knowledge base must be expanded so that future work is fully supported by a growing understanding of need and service impact. There are no short-cuts to the excellent standards that veterans should expect from probation services and their partners, specifically no less than the rest of the caseload.