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What do service users think of probation changes?
Offenders on probation used terms such as “more stressed”, “miserable”, “deflated” to describe their probation officers after Transforming Rehabilitation was implemented.

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Service users see the impact of TR on staff more than on selves

As part of its initial assessment of the new public/private probation service known as Transforming Rehabilitation, the National Audit Office commissioned a report from User Voice entitled:  “Transforming Rehabilitation: The operational model from the service user’s perspective”.

User Voice’s mission is to reduce offending; its work is led and delivered by ex-offenders who consistently foster dialogue between users and providers of services within the criminal justice system. They seek to provide ways:

that enable unheard voices; to make a difference, to urge policy-makers and people with power who make decisions to listen.

The report

The report is based on five focus groups with 45 service users in four CRC areas in different parts of the country. Several of these service users were given training in basic research methods and conducted peer research, administering a short survey about TR to a further 251 service users.

The majority of survey participants were on licence (n = 84), a suspended sentence (n = 65) or a community order (n = 61), although other and multiple supervision types were present. All participants were asked whether they were supervised by the NPS or CRCs. Interestingly, well over one-third (n = 105) were unsure of, or did not provide information on, which service managed their order.

It appears that most respondents were supervised by CRCs but the findings are not separated into CRC/NPS because only 34 participants were definitely supervised by the NPS.

The report merely presents the findings from these service user consultations and does not interpret them.

Main findings

The report focuses on six key areas:

  1. Relationships between service users and probation officers
  2. Perceived role of probation
  3. Number of probation officers
  4. Level of contact and barriers to contact
  5. Throughcare provision
  6. Changes since Transforming Rehabilitation

This is one of the largest studies of service user views of probation and merits careful reading. It’s not possible to do it justice in this post which will focus on service users’ experience of changes since the implementation of TR. However, it is worth noting that despite a number of criticisms, 46.7% survey participants rated their relationship with their supervising officer as good, 45.5% rated it okay and just 7.8% as not good.

Changes since Transforming Rehabilitation

Service users were asked whether they felt there had been any changes since the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda had been operationalised. More than three-quarters (77%) survey participants said they had not noticed any change in the overall service they personally received and this was also the case in the focus groups, where the general feeling was that there is going to be change, but it’s not happened yet.

The table reproduced below outlines survey participants’ views of whether specific aspects of probation have changed since Transforming Rehabilitation. Most respondents answered that they had seen no change in nine out of ten areas, although there were some clear differences, particularly with ‘help with housing’, which appeared to have deteriorated for many.


It appears that there have been more resources helping service users tackling their offending behaviour and direct criminogenic needs such as help with drug or alcohol problems but less help with key external causes of offending such as housing and employment. The lack of appropriate accommodation was a major theme in the research.

Survey respondents were given the space to freely record what they thought the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation had been, without any predetermined answers. The most popular answer — voice by almost a third of participants — focused on the negative impact of changing their probation officer.

However, the next most common answer (29%) was related to the impact of the change on staff, with respondents using terms such as “more stressed”, “miserable”, “deflated” to describe their probation officers. The report includes a number of verbatim quotes:

I felt like an agony aunt to my PO [probation officer] as she may lose her job with the changes.

The uncertainty of staffing has given a lack of morale amongst staff. This has affected their work and service users have suffered as a result.

Seen a change in last 12 months and staff are going so will see another change.

Seen more and more being sentenced to probation from courts … not enough staff to compensate.


The service users who took part in this consultation provided feedback on the differences they experienced as a consequence of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda. A range of topics were covered regarding their experience of working with probation at the moment and any changes they had noticed in the last 12 months. The report summarises its three main findings

  1. For most, there had been very few noticeable changes, if any.
  2. For some, there were positive changes, mainly in relation to offending behaviour work and education.
  3. For others, relationships with probation had felt the effects of the changes, in terms of confused job roles and having multiple officers in a short space of time.


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