Friday, 28 July 2017

News Roundup 12

The news about employment tribunal fees means yet another reversal of a flawed Chris Grayling policy. This from the BBC website:-  

Employment tribunal fees unlawful, Supreme Court rules

Fees for those bringing employment tribunal claims have been ruled unlawful, and the government will now have to repay up to £32m to claimants. The government introduced fees of up to £1,200 in 2013, which it said would cut the number of malicious and weak cases. Government statistics showed 79% fewer cases were brought over three years - trade union Unison said the fees prevented workers accessing justice. The government said it would take steps to stop charging and refund payments.

The Supreme Court ruled the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong - not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too."

He added: "These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up. We'll never know how many people missed out because they couldn't afford the expense of fees."

Proper access to justice

The government had already made a voluntary commitment to reimburse all fees if it was found they acted unlawfully. Fees have raised about £32m since being introduced. Justice minister Dominic Raab said the government would cease taking fees for employment tribunals "immediately" and begin the process of reimbursing claimants, dating back to 2013. He said: "We respect the judgement and we are going to take it fully on board and we are going to comply with it." It would fall to the taxpayer to pick up the bill, he said.

"The tricky, the difficult, the fluid balancing act that we've got is we want to make sure there's proper access to justice, we want to make sure frivolous or spurious claims don't clog up the tribunal and at the same time we've got to make sure we've got the right way to fund it.," he said.

Fees ranged between £390 and £1,200. Discrimination cases cost more for claimants because of the complexity and time hearings took. The Supreme Court found this was indirectly discriminatory because a higher proportion of women would bring discrimination cases.

Cases sent to employment tribunals

It also said that some people would not bring cases to employment tribunals because paying the fees would render any financial reward pointless. The court's summary added claimants in low or middle income household could not afford the fees "without sacrificing ordinary and reasonable expenditure for substantial periods of time".

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said it was a "massive win" for workers. "Too many low-paid workers couldn't afford to uphold their rights at work, even when they've faced harassment or have been sacked unfairly," she said.

The decision was welcomed by employment lawyer Karen Jackson, who said: "I don't know an employment lawyer who didn't think it was wrong to have fees. "We all felt that morally it was the wrong thing to do as a barrier to justice."


The Daily Mirror succinctly catalogues the Grayling legacy:-

The full list of Tory Chris Grayling's failures as Justice Secretary

Eight of the Tory minister's reforms from his three years as Justice Secretary have either been scrapped or overturned by a court

Tory minister Chris Grayling was dealt another embarrassing blow today, when the Supreme Court ruled his unfair tribunal fees were illegal. And it's far from the only failure from his three years as Justice Secretary. By our count, eight of the major reforms to prisons and the justice system he introduced while he was in the job have either been overturned by a court or dropped by the party. And there's potentially a ninth on the way.

Here's a full list of Chris Grayling's failures.

1. Banning books for prisoners
He spent £72,000 defending a High Court challenge to his ban on family members sending books to prisoners.

2. Criminal court charges
The Tories scrapped ‘unfair’ criminal court charges of up to £1,000 which critics said would make innocent people plead guilty, after more than 50 magistrates quit in disgust.

3. Saudi prison training contract
He masterminded an ill-fated £5.9m deal with Saudi Arabia to run a training programme for prisons, which was dropped after public outcry.

4. Prisoner tagging scheme
A £23 million prisoner tagging scheme he unveiled was also axed, after the firm he awarded the contract to failed to deliver on the hardware.

5. Legal aid for domestic violence victims
New rules demanding victims of domestic violence must provide proof the abuse was recent before claiming legal aid were branded “invalid” by the court of appeal.

6. Legal aid for prisoners
Cuts to legal aid for existing prisoners were ruled “unlawful and unfair”.

7. Privatising prisons
Plans to privatise three prisons were dropped within months of being announced, in the fallout from the electronic tagging scandal.

8. Tribunal fees
Today's ruling ridiculed the government’s misunderstanding of “elementary economics, and plain common sense”, when it claimed higher fees would mean increased demand."

In their judgement, they ruled the fees had a "deterrent effect upon discrimination claims, among others” and put off more genuine cases than so-called ‘vexatious’ claims the government claimed the fees were supposed to deter. The government now has to pay back about £27 million in unlawful fees.

...and here's another one that could be on the way.

9. Probation service privatisation
A report by the chief inspectors of probation and prisons published last month said his botched privatisation of the probation service could be dropped “with negligible impact.”


The latest prison statistics regarding prison safety rather shockingly put into context the recent news regarding Michael Spurr's £20,000 bonus. This from Frances Crook of the Howard Legue:-

Prison assaults and self-injury incidents soar to record highs

The number of assaults and incidents of self-injury in prisons in England and Wales have risen to record highs, figures seen by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveal today (Thursday 27 July).

Official statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, show that 26,643 assault incidents were recorded in the 12 months to the end of March 2017 – a 20 per cent increase on the previous year. Assaults on staff rose by 32 per cent.

Serious assaults, including those requiring medical attention at hospital, have almost trebled in four years. There were 3,606 such incidents recorded during the 12 months to the end of March 2017 – a 22 per cent increase on the previous year. Prisons recorded 40,414 self-injury incidents during the 12 months to the end of March 2017 – a 17 per cent rise from the previous year. This is the fifth successive quarter when incidents of self-injury have reached their highest-ever level.

The figures show that 316 people died in prisons during the 12 months to the end of June 2017, slightly down from 322 during the previous year. They included 97 people who lost their lives through suicide – 91 in men’s prisons and six in women’s prisons. This is a slight fall from the previous year, when 107 people lost their lives through suicide.

Annual performance rankings show that the number of prisons with the lowest possible rating has risen from six to 10. The lowest-ranked prisons – Bedford, Birmingham, Bristol, Brixton, Guys Marsh, Hindley, Liverpool, Pentonville, Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs – are all rated as performing at a level that causes “serious concern”. The statistics come a week after Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons reported that the state was failing in its duty to people in prison.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The rising tide of violence and human misery gets higher and higher as chronic overcrowding and staff shortages continue to drive the prison system into chaos. How many people have to die before action is taken?

“The new Secretary of State for Justice must act now to stop the death toll. The first step to recovery is to recognise that there is a problem. The second step is to do something about the problem. By taking bold but sensible steps to reduce the prison population, we can save lives and prevent more people being swept away into deeper currents of crime and despair.”


Finally, I see Private Eye has picked up on the MoJ sneakily paying the CRCs more money for their failure to deliver on the probation contracts:- 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Whatever Happened to....?

Regular readers and the whole profession will be acutely aware of the very painful process we've all been through over the last few years as a result of TR. Hundreds of highly experienced staff have had their careers trashed and been forced out of a job they once loved.  

Read and weep for our once Gold Standard profession so thoroughly smashed by Chris Grayling and his former Liberal Democrat coalition cronies such as Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes. This seen on Facebook:-

Asked by one of our followers who is reconsidering their career choice....

I'm finding that all jobs I think I might be able to do want either a recent graduate or someone with experience. I can't afford to retrain or take a massive drop in pay (although I am willing to take a considerable drop just to get out). I would really love to know what ex-POs and PSOs do now and how they got out?


Joined the YOS x

Moved into social work.

Teaching Assistant

Can I ask did you need to retrain for this. I'm very interested in being a teaching assistant. Been a qualified PO for 15 years.

I'm a TA as well and didn't need to train to get a job, just some volunteering. However the money's is sooooo bad I'm not sure it's the right thing! I'm struggling and I was a CA (temp PSO), so it's about 3 times less for you! It's a great job though, if you can afford to do it for practically nothing..

An ex PO I worked with went into planning department for council

Family Liason Officer or Educational Welfare Officer other options

I'm not sure EWOs exist everywhere anymore.

I am a trainer in social work and criminal justice settings.

Luckily I did my social work MSc and escaped - have taken a slight pay cut but it's a million times better.

I think the key is thinking about what transferable skills you have. Most people that work in probation have excellent analytical and risk assessment skills. I'm still working as a part time PO, but have other roles as a children's home independent visitor and also a mental health hospital manager, sitting on mental health panels. Good to have a look around these types of roles as our skills are welcome and relevant x

Join the civil service...the real civil service. Always have roles coming up to move into. Your experiences and skills can be used in stress free roles.

Heading for social work myself. Crunched the numbers with my wife and we can make it work. As for experience, there are lots of mentoring and support roles in social care, education etc, some of which are paid, that provide great experience. The skills are transferable.

You will be amazing at that! But a loss to the service x

Was a PSO. Went to work in mental health which is an underpaid profession sadly. As such took a hit on my salary just to get out. However, I'm looking to move to civil service for more security. HMRC pay well for HEO grade and for some generic roles which don't want job specific knowledge but just transferable skills. The downside is I've been waiting for 6 months for a start date after being successful at interview. It is difficult because, especially when ur at the top of ur grade, probation works like golden handcuffs.

I was lucky. I got out when the CRC had just taken over and were offering redundancies or early retirement. Luckily, I was old enough, so opted for early retirement with a decent pension. I hope you find something else for your future emplyment.

Took my work pension at 60, topped up with money from part time cleaning, until I retire the day after tomorrow!

I've found my training and experience in Probation to be a massive asset in working in Youth Offending. I've not long recruited a former PO to a Team Leader post too.

I was lucky. I went to live in France. I run gîtes. But mostly I am enjoying the southern French weather. Best thing I ever did. I walked away from a pension and a salary but saved my sanity.

Sounds awesome

That's always been a dream of mine. Can one make a living out of gites. Is it not a saturated market?

In the south of France there are absolutely loads of tourists. You can't fail to make money if you've got really nice gites, a good view, a pool..the weather is brilliant and there is lots to see and do!

Do you need any staff...?

Not yet....but who knows..would love one day to do yoga retreats.

I'm an ex PO and now work part time in Tescos, full time foster carer and part time dog sitter! So much happier!!!!

Several of my PO friends left & got jobs as investigators for the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Another is a University lecturer. Our skills & knowledge are highly transferrable.

Don't you need a PhD to be a lecturer?

She has a masters degree & studying for a PhD whilst teaching.

Jumped ship to become a CQC inspector 18 months ago. Did GP inspections for a bit, before a space came up on the health & justice team. The majority of inspections I'm involved in are with HMI Prisons, plus some other interesting stuff - today I'm doing a presentation to HMI Probation about a joint thematic inspection we've just completed. Agree with the above - inspection and investigation work suits our skill set very well. Talking to people, making judgements, and writing reports... ideal!

Ex PO, now run a Supported Volunteering project, mentoring adults with LDs/MH or other issues into volunteering. Massive pay cut but now get tax credits which I didn't before so it just about works out. Plus there is no stress!!!

Ex SPO. I was assigned to CRC so left before the French caterers took over.I went to Adult Social Care and did lots of training. Was a senior prac and acting team leader. My partner said that I would come home tired but not unhappy and stressed as before. Now retired but will look at part time work when I have caught up with my sleep. As everyone has said we have transferable skills and it has been interesting to see where former colleagues have ended up.

Was a PSO but left before the takeover happened, was on the prolific offender team and found it incredibly frustrating, haven't worked in paid employment for four years now but just sort of thinking I might like a bit of a wage...steering clear of the stress of working with offenders though.

I now work as a psychotherapist - I have a private practice, I have a part time job working with those with sexual convictions who are victims/survivors too and also do some lecturing.

How to get out? Sounds like you're in prison. The grass is not always greener on the otherside. Just don't believe the hype don't get stressed about nothing you can't change, take the money, get a hobby, enjoy life, I also personally enjoy challenging the changes with the senior management by email. CRC's will never work it is just a way of reducing costs of probation, like the new one for decreasing redundancy enhanced pay from 3.46 to 1.2 at SWM, looks like another round of redundancies coming around!. Under TUPE regulations I wonder if its legal as it has been custom and practice to give it.

Retired from a secondment to the MOJ

Ex PSO, currently working as a locum PSO but start my new job soon as a Safeguarding head at a school. I have also worked as a Women's Support Worker.

Ex PSO, now an Atttendance Officer for a group of secondary schools. Lots of transferable skills and term time, money not bad either!

Social Work Tutor with the OU.

Went into adult social care.

Don't you need PhD to be a university lecturer or at least be working towards one? That's my understanding. .could be an expensive way out of probation!

My advice...get out of field teams and into specialisms...prison secondments are far more interesting and less stressful, plus no pay cut or loss of terms and conditions as in some of the career changes mentioned here! You keep your PO qualifications useful and relevant too and continue working with offenders, or whatever the term is at the moment! Best thing I did.

Things may well have changed in the decade plus since I did a prison secondment, but they were a much easier environment to work in as a male.

So many just seem to go into agency work. Not a leap forward for me, though it may suit some.

Another benefit of prisons - secondments have been abolished so you can stay longer! I've been in what was meant to be a 2 year prison secondment for nearly 5 years now! I've loved it. I'd definitely recommend it over community. Just be warned that it's all changing with new OM in custody model soon - who knows whether for better or worse. And it's been announced prison posts will be for 5 years max (so I need to start planning my next steps soon!)

Not heard prison posts are for 5 years max!! I know people who have stayed in prisons much longer than that! Where was that announced? OM model has been delayed in my area numerous times and no sign of that happening for at least 18 months. They are recruiting more PO's in prisons not letting people go. I think different areas clearly have different policies to prison job's...I am in West Yorkshire and we've had no announcement about a 5 year maximum stay at all!

Yes they are because they are so stressed until they can find something else.

I left a year ago as a PO and now work for the Catholic Church as a safeguarding coordinator. Better pay, less hours, less stress and I feel more values. Miss the colleagues though!

So you not need a social worker qualifications for safeguarding roles?

Not for these roles, just safeguarding related experience.

I left going on four years ago after 15 years of being a PO, firstly working for my husband as a Quality Manager, before taking parental leave. We have since emigrated to Iceland and will be running an organic fruit and vegetable farm from this summer. I haven't transferred my skills in any appreciable way and basically married well which allowed me to walk away from the Service.

I was a PSO and then went on to work for St Giles Trust helping ex offenders in the community and then trained as a trainer/assessor and have never looked back.

PO to YOT team leader. Don't under estimate transferable skills. You end up so accustomed to just getting on with the job, you forget how skilled you are.

Ditto. People seem to be leaving in droves!

Thanks for this post. I've been thinking for some time that my future career may lie outside of probation, but have been worried that our skills and qualifications are too specific and tie me to this job. Reassuring to hear that other people have made a success of moving on! :) x

Come join DWP with me much less stress then prison and probation x

I still enjoy the prisons side, but I know probation will move me on at some point soon & there's a lot of changes atm too. I'm considering doing a youth offending secondment for a bit! Aww so glad you're enjoying your new role. Less stress sounds lovely :) x

I use to do the youth offending panels as a volunteer and used to enjoy it.

That's encouraging! I'm going along to shadow someone for a day and see what it's all about x

I left and have gone into community safety for a local authority. There's no stress, it's very varied and I'm still able to use my Criminal Justice experience.

Worked in the CJS for 22 years 15 as a PSO...left 18 months ago and moved into the private care sector ....never ever EVER looked back. It wasn't until I was away from the probation service did I fully understand how draining and demoralising it was and what effect it had on my overall wellbeing.. I took a pay cut but was worth every penny!

I'm part time agency and have worked with other agency staff who have been trying to branch out of probation - it would be great if all this advice could be co ordinated!!

Is nobody interested in the clerical staff? It's had a big impact on us too!

I love our admin ladies and would be lost without their compassion and skills x

Thanks. All admin staff have been taken out of the field teams and sent to work in one big building. Very sad.

God that's awful - I'm so sorry they've done that  X

I moved sideways - from PSO into a Youth Offending Team and am now a Senior Early Help Worker. All my skills from Probation transferred and I still get to work with offenders sometimes too, so the knowledge is still good to go. In my new role, I get to work with families experiencing difficulties BEFORE statutory authorities become involved and I love every minute of it (although the stress is still there sometimes ;) )

I moved to become a CJ Recovery Worker. It is very stressful and I am finding it hard. Looking for something new...

Same as me xx

I left youth offending two years ago and now use my decision making and report writing skills to adjudicate on student appeals and complaints in a university. I've found that the higher education sector recognises transferable skills and has more opportunities for professional growth and development

I did the Social Work MA course (22 months long) which I got a full bursary for. I also managed to do some project work and report writing on the side (when not in course placements) and managed surprisingly well on a financial level. I'd been worried about that aspect esp as I have 2 small children to support, but it was okay all in all. I'm now a qualified Social Worker in Adult Care. The course was challenging at times but I'm very pleased I made the jump. I couldn't tolerate what was happening in the Probation Service or for me, and felt that I had to get out. I applied for several jobs prior to committing to the course, but found I just wasn't getting short listed with just my Probation Qual ;( ... Retraining felt like a no brainer in the end and I'm glad I was courageous enough to do it. I got my S/W role in the Trust that I completed my final course placement in. Most of the folk I trained with got jobs in LA S/W within 1 month of qualifying. Good luck in your bid to 'get out'. I'd recommend an element of risk taking if you're really unhappy ..

I became a PO in 1988 and gained experience in different areas inc 14 years in programmes. I left in late 2015. I have found it impossible to get permanent work and have kept busy with voluntary work. I do have a job now but is an eight month job running a programme for offenders supervised by YOTs re drug, alcohol and risky behaviour. Is very hard out there and I have not found that my skills are recognized in general. I also have two training qualifications and a Life Coach qualification. I miss group work in Probation a lot - a great job, when fully staffed and a great team but PO s are not wanted in CRCs.

I would agree with that.  I think it depends whereabouts in the country you are as to the availability of jobs, but there isn't a great deal out there in the North East. I think you can always pick up short term agency contracts though, and where there's a will, there's a way. I wanted out so badly that I'd have left and taken my chances had I been unsuccessful at securing a place on the S/W MA. Guess ability to do that depends also on your financial circs though. I was lucky in that my husband has always been our main wage earner (a situation I'm totally happy with) and my hours were only part-time in Probation after having my children. I'm also not a materialistic person so didn't mind 'cutting the cloth' so to speak.

PSO with the now totally redundant CJ NVQ. Left 4yrs ago to escape privatisation chaos. CARATS worker - awful company but loved the job, but left after 3m. Briefly PSO temped. Now settled in substance misuse - initially with large recently name changed charity, which wasn't a great experience. Since been taken over by larger security company, which has been better managed than expected. 4yrs on and I'm still several grand short of earning what I was as a PSO & I miss the holiday entitlement and sick leave (esp as someone with chronic illness).

Found it hard to find new career due to lack of degree & so many places now want specific qualifications. However I've just been through recruitment for civil service apprenticeship & due to start later in the year. Can't wait to be back in the public sector.

I miss my probation job every day. I needed to leave for my health/sanity, I think. But I still regret it.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Parole Board At 50

A couple of weeks ago Russell Webster published a guest blog by Martin Jones, Chief Executive of the Parole Board for England and Wales and it covered a lot of important ground:- 

The parole board faces up to new challenges

Striving to improve

2017-18 represents the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the Parole Board. Those fifty years has seen fundamental changes and many improvements in the way our system works, it has also brought enormous new challenges.

Deciding whether it is necessary to keep someone in prison to protect the public is a vital, often difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decision. We need our independent members to show good judgement, to assess, based on all the evidence, whether somebody serving a prison sentence can be safely managed in the community.

The Board has published a strategy: Parole Board Strategy 2016-2020 setting out our plans for ensuring the Board meets our important duties. Our number one priority at present has been to tackle the unacceptable delays to hearings. Delays have a corrosive impact and can cause a loss of hope.

The rise of oral hearings

Whilst fifty years ago, the Parole Board rarely, if ever, saw the person whose liberty they were deciding, in 2016-17 the Parole Board held a historic high of 7,377 hearings. This high, is partly a consequence of increased numbers of people being eligible for a parole review (including the continuing legacy of the discontinued IPP sentence) but most recently the result of the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Osborn, which obliged the Board to hold more hearings to ensure fairness. We now hold nearly five times the number of hearings we held a decade ago. Our hard work has now brought down the backlog by 40% over the last two years, bringing down delays; but there remains more to do.


The Board’s strategy also commits us to making progress on IPPs. Whilst our role is to look at risk to the public, and I believe there are a small number IPPs who remain a genuine danger to the public; I share the concern of many commentators about the fact that there are still 3,528 IPPs in prison. I fear that for some imprisonment itself and their despair; is not helping. Whilst historically there was justifiable concern about the failure of IPPs to make progress, in recent years the numbers of IPPs progressed has risen significantly as a result of progress in custody and greater confidence. In 2016-17 the Board ordered the release of over 900 IPP prisoners (including the re-release of recalled IPPs); this is 20% more than in the preceding year and I expect us to make further significant progress this year. Despite the progress made, I can understand why IPPs are perceived as creating potential injustice, and believe there is a compelling case to changing the licence arrangements, which have the potential to compound the difficulties seen over the last twelve years.

Recalls a growing challenge

Whilst the Board strives to keep up with growing demand, it is striking to note the range of cases now coming to the Board. When created our primary purpose was to provide to ministers on the release of those serving a life sentence following the abolition of the death penalty. Today we spend significant time dealing with recall prisoners; whose numbers have increased astonishingly over the last twenty years. On average, we receive around one thousand recall cases a month and many of those cases are going to an oral hearing. Whilst it is quite right that prisoners have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their recall, I believe that more could be done to encourage probation officers to exercise their professional judgement to keep people in the community, and fully support efforts being made by Sonia Crozier as head of the National Probation Service to find alternatives to recall and increase confidence.

We are also working with our members to ensure we have a robust, evidence based approach to risk. The recent decision to stop SOTP programmes is salutary. Parole decisions cannot be takes through tick box approaches. Treatment and programmes are not panaceas. Risk can reduce through age; maturity; insight into offending; and a reduction in opportunities to offend. Whatever has happened in the past; the Board is encouraging its members to look at all of the evidence available and to be open and reflective about our decision making. Risk can never be entirely eliminated, but good decisions will identify the risks and how they might be managed in the community. But this needs imagination from all involved. Looking to the future; I am certain that the Parole Board has the opportunity to utilise technology such as alcohol monitoring to better manage offenders in the community; and we are already making use of GPS tracking devices on a small scale.

Balances the rights of prisoners and victims

Finally – our system is not just about processes; it is about people.

Whilst we strive to do the very best we can, there are no crystal balls. If we measured our success only by the number of serious offences committed by those released by the Parole Board the overwhelming majority of our release decisions are sound. However, whilst deeply regrettable, there have always been a tiny number of cases where those released by the Parole Board commit serious offences. We take each such tragic case extremely seriously, as the public would expect. A serious offence can be a hammer blow to the member who makes the decision. We always seek to learn lessons; but we cannot allow these rare cases detract from the fact that most of those in our prisons should have a second chance.

The Board remains committed to making fair and independent decisions, as swiftly as possible, with care, humanity and courage. I know from speaking to victims, prisoners and their respective families how important our decisions are. Losing a member of your family through violent crime, or through imprisonment, is always devastating and the consequences of that loss has an impact down the generations. That is why we must do our very best to make the best decisions we can.

Martin Jones, Chief Executive of the Parole Board for England and Wales.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017


Today we have a couple of musings to reflect on; where we are and what could happen next. The first from Frances Crook of the Howard League:-  

Might it be time to hold ministers to account?

Most businesses and charities assess how effective they are being at delivering their objectives and they hold individuals to account. If staff do not deliver or do work that damages the business they are dismissed. Indeed, in public service, people can be held accountable many years after they have left – look at Hillsborough.

Ministers, however, often get away with it.

Too many ministers are dumped on a department with no expertise or experience in the issue. They are desperate to make a mark to further their career. Some more than others, admittedly. The ones in a hurry push policies through against advice and they can do huge damage to the life of the nation.

Take the Ministry of Justice. There have been five secretaries of state in the last seven years. Some have done lasting damage. One in particular forced through an upheaval to the probation service that is now failing on a scandalous scale. There was no evidence that the restructuring would improve public safety, indeed all experts and staff issued dire warnings that splitting probation would put the public at risk. The reports on the last years of the unified public probation service showed it doing well. HM Inspector of Probation said a couple of weeks ago that the private companies were universally failing so badly that it would make no difference if they weren’t there.

At the same time, this minister was closing prisons, cutting the number of prison officers and doing nothing to reduce the number of people in prison. This meant that more prisoners were crammed into fewer prisons with not enough staff. The consequences are a deteriorating prison system where someone takes their own life every three days, violent assaults are an everyday occurrence, drugs are rife and crime is spilling from prisons into communities.

Despite all this, the secretary of state in question has simply moved on to another department.

Might it be time to hold ministers to account? We could put in place a system for assessing the success or failure of their initiatives. If they cost a lot and hurt people, they would at least have to apologise. That might concentrate the minds of the rest of them. I don’t want to stifle innovation, but I do want to stop vanity projects that damage the fabric of the nation being foisted on us all.

Frances Crook


And here is Ian Lawrence writing several weeks ago on the Napo Website:-

Through the Gate but to where?

The report by HM Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey could not have made it any clearer. The much vaunted Through the Gate service (TTG) that Chris Grayling boasted would revolutionise the world of rehabilitation has been an abject failure.

Of 98 cases observed by inspectors only two prisoners were found accommodation via these services. Save for a few pockets of good practice, and from the feedback reaching us from some rightly exasperated Napo members working within Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) who have doubtless been doing their best to deliver the good intentions of the programme, probation providers are now facing the prospect of some serious directives from HMPPS to start delivering to an agreed standard.

Napo has moved swiftly in the wake of the HMI Probation report ( to alert Parliamentarians to the fact that TTG resettlement services were introduced in 2015 to supposedly bridge the gap between prison and community, but that since then the services offered by CRCs across the whole probation landscape are making little tangible difference to the prospects of prisoners due for release.

As is now refreshingly the case since Dame Glenys Stacey took on responsibility for the inspectorate, the TTG report gets straight to the nub of the problem. It exposes the fact that the strategic priority of CRCs has been about ticking the boxes marked: contractual requirement, instead of sufficiently investing in what is needed to help clients step on to the road marked: recovery.

In a hugely damning indictment, the inspectorate found that prisoners upon release were no better served than eight months ago and worse still, that if Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow the impact would be negligible.

Staff are not to blame

Just after the publication of the report an Early Day Motion (EDM) was laid down by Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville, who is also the Chair of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group. This followed three highly critical reports from HMI Probation in the context of growing concerns that CRCs are not achieving the desired results expected under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme (TR).

There is a whole separate debate to be had regarding whose fault that actually is; but the ongoing wrangles between CRC owners and the MoJ over future funding arrangements speak volumes, especially in the context of what Napo has had to say about mis-sold contracts based on unreliable and hugely outdated statistics.

Despite the findings of the TTG report, the EDM does not criticise probation providers individually but calls for a review as to how TR has impacted on the delivery of services. In particular it reflects how Through the Gate has attracted widespread criticism and it also recognises that the whole TR programme has been badly implemented and has left both CRCs and the National Probation Service in an impossible position, which directly impacts on staff and clients.

What next?

Prior to the calling of the General Election, Napo had made promising headway through the Justice Select Committee for the whole TR programme to be reviewed, and there were reasonable grounds to suggest that it was likely that this would have happened.

Napo has been highly critical of the operational shortcomings of the TR programme and for that I make no apologies. Nevertheless, I have had a number of opportunities such as a recent seminar organised by the Public Policy Exchange where I have made it clear that politicians and senior management need to listen more carefully to what the experts (that’s our members) are saying about the post-TR world and how improvements to what is currently going on could still be achieved with the right level of investment and changes to the governance structure which would see failing CRCs revert back to a form of public ownership.

Make no mistake, Napo never had a problem with the concept of Through the Gate, but like many facets of TR, it was the failure to even pilot the programme or to even analyse the potential cost benefits which have led to the taxpayer unwittingly bankrolling a spectacular failure.

The evidence from the government’s own inspectors suggests that politicians need to have a serious rethink before wildly embarking on a prison-centric rehabilitation agenda that will leave massive gaps in community provision.

Through the Gate is as clear a sign as any that grandiose social experiments have a huge price for the public as well as those that they are meant to assist.

Ian Lawrence

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Story Will Out

It's Monday morning and I bet high up on the agenda of the MoJ media management meeting down in London is how to keep a lid on information in the age of blogging.

Basically, the civil servants who get paid handsomely to make sure we don't find out what happens in our prisons are pretty pissed-off because yet again blogger Alex Cavendish got the story out about the the violent incident at HMYOI Aylesbury last Friday. Like many others, I watched the story develop not via the BBC or Sky rolling news channels, but via his twitter feed. This from his blog post:-

YOI Aylesbury: The Inside Story

Although it is common knowledge that our prison system is in deep crisis, the actual details of what is going on behind prison walls are often hidden from public view. Appalling events take place, but these stories are rarely told because of the suffocating blanket of official secrecy from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) that has come to envelop our jails like a thick mist. Transparency is a pipe dream.

Yesterday (Friday July 21) there was a serious incident of violence at HM YOI Aylesbury. We have learned this not by reading about it in the local or national newspapers or from seeing it on the television news, but only because reliable, professional sources inside the system have passed on the details to a private blogger who has an active interest in the prison crisis. That’s why the news was broken on my Twitter account this afternoon and why you are reading about the incident on this blog.

In a nutshell, a group of over 30 young inmates located on one wing became involved in a mass brawl yesterday morning. Rather than rewriting one of the accounts I’ve received, I’ll simply let the person (who has to remain anonymous for obvious reasons) tell the story for themselves, with their permission. This may be the only accurate account of this incident you’ll ever read, so it’s important the truth is told.

The incident yesterday was horrific. The wing has been brewing for a while. The worst, most difficult wing is being run by new officers. We are 30 staff down and now will be even more.

The wing is over run with problems of gangs and gang violence. There has been a big rise in weapons and drugs in the jail. The governors were warned. The wing in question houses most gangs in the jail on one wing.

A mass brawl broke out yesterday morning, calling on all officers available lots of times. We didn't have the staff. Prisoners were attacking each other with weapons – and staff.

Staff were trying to save their lives and got battered. Some were seriously injured. Another officer was on the landing unconscious. We had ambulances and fire service in trying to help alongside our healthcare department. If anything had happened elsewhere in the jail we wouldn't have been able to cope.

Aylesbury is at breaking point. Eleven officers had to go to hospital and others are injured.

I'm so angry by what has happened to be honest! The government do nothing. The public should know what really happens! I have never seen anything as bad as this in the years that I have worked there. Members of staff are in danger.

I enjoy my job and enjoy working with the lads, but yesterday was different. They had no fear and they didn't care. The staff tried their best and they worked incredibly hard. They put their lives on the line to save the lads’ lives when they seemed to just want to kill each other!

To be fair our number one governor is good and she's trying hard but she's battling against a broken system. We have so many new officers that work hard but they are so young and they just aren't getting the support from their seniors. Older members of staff are burnt out.

We have prisoners who are over 22 stuck in the jail because we barely have any offender supervisors to do the work and no adult jails will take our lads. The wings are rife with spice, cannabis, steroids and weapons.

And we have had a few near miss suicides recently, alongside a serious fight earlier in the year in which a brick was used to smash a lad’s skull in. I don't understand how the MOJ can sit there and justify what they do.

The staff try hard but what's three new staff on a wing of 70 lads mainly gang members? It's unsafe. I know staff are not eating and throwing up after work because they are so anxious to go to work.

I’m dreading going to work, having to try and help the people that have hurt my friends. What worries me now is some of the lads involved I would have put money on them being decent guys. They weren't the 'typical' disruptive prisoners.

So now the truth is out there. It can no longer be covered up by the bureaucrats and press officers down in at the MOJ in Petty France.


It's fairly clear to all that the MoJ are no longer able to set the news agenda to suit their interests and that without bloggers like Alex, we would never have heard about this incident. This from the BBC website:- 

Aylesbury YOI prison officers hurt in 'brawl'

Seven prison officers and one prisoner were taken to hospital after "disorder" at a young offender institution, police have said. It happened at HM YOI Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire on Friday morning, Thames Valley Police said. An online prison blog said 30 inmates took part in the "mass brawl".

Police said the injured people had since been released from hospital. The Prison Service said it was investigating the incident with police. Officers were called to "a report of disorder" at the young offender institution in Bierton Road at about 11:00 BST, but "officer deployment was not required at the incident", a spokeswoman said.

Prison UK blog

"Seven prison officers and one prisoner were taken to hospital for treatment." The incident came to light in an online blog on Prison UK. Author Alex Cavendish, a former prisoner, said he was passed the information via "reliable, professional sources inside the system".

"A mass brawl broke out yesterday morning... Prisoners were attacking each other with weapons - and staff," the informant said. He described the incident as "horrific".

Trouble 'brewing'

"Staff were trying to save their lives and got battered. Some were seriously injured. Another officer was on the landing unconscious. We had ambulances and fire service in, trying to help alongside our healthcare department. The wing has been brewing for a while," he added.

A Prison Service Spokesman confirmed that "an incident involving a number of prisoners took place on Friday 21 July". We do not tolerate violence against our hard-working staff. Where incidents like this occur, we will always work closely with the police to push for the strongest possible punishment," he added. The incident is being jointly investigated by the Prison Service and Thames Valley Police.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Where Did It All Go Wrong? 2

Earlier this year I went away for a week and as luck would have it, my absence coincided with an important report published by an outfit called Crest  Where did it all go wrong? A study into the use of community sentences in England and Wales. 

Although I gave it a brief mention here, mostly highlighting the proposals, I regret not having given it a closer look because it rather neatly confirms everything we've previously discussed at some length, including the hugely damaging effect of TR. As this supposedly independent report makes clear, the Probation Service has clearly been thoroughly smashed by utterly inept political involvement over several years and there is now an urgent need for an effective plan 'B' that goes beyond paying the CRCs more money. 

In essence, we have a major and growing crisis in our prisons, coupled with a massive reduction in community sentences and now clear evidence of a significant increase in crime. Interestingly, despite being published only three months ago, the opening line and premise "Despite overall crime falling" has proved to be completely false. 

A long but important read I feel. Here are my selected highlights of the analysis contained in the report - the proposals were covered in the earlier post:- 

Executive Summary

Despite overall crime falling, our criminal justice system remains under pressure. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our prisons, which are, in the words of the former Chief Inspector, “in their worst state for a decade”, with violence, overcrowding and self-harm higher than at any point on record. 

Policymakers have long understood that a key part of the solution to an overstretched prison system lies in a more effective regime of community sentences, able to secure the confidence of magistrates and the public. As far back as 2003, Pat Carter (whose review presaged the creation of the National Offender Management Service) was calling for sentences in the community “to be made more demanding” as a way to re-balance the system. And in November 2016, the Lord Chief Justice called for more offenders to be sentenced to “tough” and “visible” alternatives in the community, in order to reduce the numbers sent to prison. 

The notion that community sentences can be a more effective, cheaper alternative to prison is supported by a strong body of evidence. At their best, sentences served in the community can offer a powerful tool for addressing the root causes of offending behaviour, reducing the rate at which an offender reoffends and thus lowering demand on the system overall. 

Yet despite their obvious potential, community sentences (community orders and suspended sentence orders) are being used less than at any point over the last 15 years. Since 2004, the numbers sentenced to community orders have halved, and overall numbers of sentences served in the community are down 25%, whilst the numbers sentenced to custody have remained relatively stable. Not only is this fuelling unnecessary pressure on our prisons, it is impacting the financial viability of community rehabilitation companies, who are struggling to cope with a lower than anticipated volume of paid work. 

This report is the first systematic attempt in over a decade to understand what lies behind this phenomenon. It reveals that community sentences: 

are implemented in a way that bears little resemblance to the evidence of what works: they are neither intensive, swift, nor punitive enough to act as a proper deterrent. Most importantly, offenders are not held properly to account for complying with their sentence. The Probation Inspectorate (HMIP) has found that in a third of cases where the offender breached their order, “insufficient effort was made by the CRC responsible officer to re-engage them” 
are failing to transform lives, acting as little more than a stepping stone on the path to prison: 35% of those sentenced to custody have received at least five previous community sentences
have lost the confidence of magistrates: a new survey of magistrates commissioned for this report reveals that over a third of magistrates (37%) are not confident that community sentences are an effective alternative to custody, and two thirds (65%) are not confident that community sentences reduce crime.

These problems are the result of long term structural issues relating to the operation of the criminal justice system, which largely pre-date recent changes to the mix of crimes and government policy reforms. In particular, there appears to have been a long term decline in: 

the quality/depth of advice provided to the court to guide sentencing decisions - in the form of ‘pre-sentence reports’ (PSR): there has been a transition over the past decade from PSRs being detailed, written reports to speedy, short, written and oral reports. Almost half (42%) of reports in 2015 were delivered orally, with no information recorded, compared to just 5% in 2006
the level of information/training provided to magistrates: meaning they are unable to make the most effective use of community sentences and/or to take into account probation providers’ capacity to deliver. Over a third (36%) of magistrates do not feel that the training has adequately prepared them for dealing with community sentences and their requirements 
probation’s ability to deliver personalised sentences that address the underlying causes of an offender’s behaviour and hold the offender to account for compliance: our qualitative research has revealed a deep-seated sense of decline amongst probation staff about the quality of services being provided and the ability to enforce breaches, which has been exacerbated by recent government policy changes. Four in ten magistrates (39%) are not confident that community sentences can be tailored to suit the individual needs of an offender.

These proposals come at a time of significant change to the way offenders are managed in the community. Whilst it is too early to be definitive, there is emerging evidence that the government’s flagship reform programme - Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) - will exacerbate the problems identified above, reducing dialogue between probation and the courts, reducing incentives to deal swiftly with breaches and stifling innovation in the delivery of services to prevent reoffending. There is also little doubt that the fiscal context, with funding having declined since 2010 and set to continue falling, will add to the pressures identified in this report. 

Our report seeks to learn the lessons of the recent past, in order to influence the future of sentencing and probation reform. The research was informed by a large number of interviews with police and crime commissioners, magistrates, probation staff, police and policymakers. We also commissioned a new survey of magistrates through the Magistrates’ Association.


Various explanations have been postulated about the apparently declining relevance of community sentences: 

● A loss of confidence by sentencers and the public in the effectiveness of community sentences 
● Changes in crime patterns, meaning a more serious mix of offenders is coming before the courts, for whom community sentences are less appropriate 
● Risk aversion within the National Probation Service in recommending community sentences in pre-sentence reports 
● The impact of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, including the design of Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) contracts and the introduction of through the gate support for short term prisoners

History and purpose of community sentences 

Chapter summary: 

● The community sentences (community orders and suspended sentence orders) in use today were introduced in 2005, but subsequent policy reforms since 2010 have affected the way offenders are managed in the community and how community sentences are used in practice. 
● Technically, though both sentences are served in the community, COs are non-custodial sentences and SSOs are sentences of imprisonment served in the community. Both COs and SSOs can be comprised of one or more of 13 possible conditions, or ‘requirements’ to enable the sentence to be tailored to the needs of the offender. 
● Whilst in theory, Community Orders (COs) and Suspended Sentence Orders (SSOs) are identical (in terms of the requirements they can impose) SSOs tend to be less onerous, since the threat of incarceration is deemed a punishment in and of itself. 
● In 2016 just over 100,000 COs and 56,000 SSOs were given out, compared to almost 200,000 COs and 22,000 SSOs in 2006.

The development of community sentences 

The community order (CO) and the suspended sentence order (SSO) as they are recognised today became available in 2005, having been introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and were designed to provide more credible alternatives to short term custodial sentences and a solution to the rising numbers in prison. 

The new CO replaced and standardised the range of pre-existing community sentences (known as community penalties) that had previously developed erratically, and simplified the order by combining all other former community sentences, meaning magistrates and judges could more easily tailor sentences according to the particular nature of the offence and the offender. 

The SSO revived an older style of sentence that was rarely implemented due to stipulations under the former legislation that it could only be used in “exceptional circumstances” . These 17 stipulations were scrapped in the 2003 legislation, giving new life to the suspended sentence. 

Since 2010 the government has introduced a number of reforms to the way we manage offenders in the community. During the last parliament there were three big policy developments:

● 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which reformed SSOs 
● 2013 Crime and Courts Act, which reformed COs 
● 2014 Offender Rehabilitation Act, which: a. introduced the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (displacing supervision requirements); and b. introduced the so-called ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms to probation

The general thrust of reforms since 2010 has been to make community sentences more robust and rigorous (thus driving up confidence), whilst making it easier for sentencers to craft an appropriate intervention for a particular offender. However, it is far from clear that they have achieved their intended purpose, as the next sections of this report will show.

Trends in the use of community sentences

Chapter summary: 

● The number of community orders has essentially halved over the past decade, with an increasingly sharp decline from 2011 onwards, whilst custody and fines have remained relatively stable. The rising use of suspended sentence orders has not offset this trend 
● The use of community sentences has declined fastest for theft and drugs offences 
● There appears to be little difference between the makeup of offenders on COs and SSOs, based on their harm and reoffending risk evaluations 
● Unpaid work is typically the most common requirement commenced under a community sentence, and since its introduction in 2015, the RAR has become the second most common 
● Delays are common between sentencing and commencing a requirement, and vary between regions and type of requirement 
● The majority (70%) of offenders undertaking a community sentence go on to complete their sentence, however: 

○ 30% of community sentences fail for the committal of an additional offence, or for breach of sentence stipulations ○ reoffending rates have remained relatively flat over the past decade and vary between disposals: custody stands at 45% (rising to 60% for short custodial sentences); COs at 35%; and SSOs at 31% (which has decreased from 37% a decade ago) 

○ reoffending performance varies between CRCs, with interim reoffending rates ranging from 26% to 43% for community sentences ○ prolific offenders (those with 15 or more previous convictions or cautions) make up an increasing proportion of those sentenced; for community the proportion has risen from 15% in 2005 to 25% in 2015. 

○ 75% of offenders sentenced to immediate custody for an indictable offence in 2014 had previously served at least 1 community sentence

Court sentencing

Trends in court sentencing over the last decade paint a stark picture. Against a backdrop of falling sentences overall, the number of offenders sentenced to community sentences has fallen dramatically (essentially halving), particularly since 2011, whilst those sentenced to immediate custody have remained relatively stable. Just over 100,000 community orders and 56,000 suspended sentence orders were given out in 2016, compared to almost 200,000 COs and 22,000 SSOs a decade ago.

These figures are even more dramatic if we look at the last five years: during which time there has been a staggering 78% decline in the number of community sentences. In 2010, a report by the think tank Policy Exchange described the so-called “unprecedented expansion of community sentences” as “the untold story of the criminal justice system over the last twenty years”. Seven years on, it is their almost disappearance that is the untold story of the CJS.

Trends in the composition of community sentences 

Unpaid work has consistently been, and remains today, the most frequently used requirement commenced under a community order, followed by Supervision (now displaced by the new ‘Rehabilitation Activity Requirement’ - see below) and Curfew. Unfortunately, there is very little publicly accessible data on what constitutes ‘unpaid work’ - the kind of work involved, how intensive it is and where it takes place.

As the National Audit Office (NAO) has noted, the fact that ‘accredited programmes’ represent a falling proportion of requirements commenced has significant implications for the financial viability of CRCs, who are paid according to the number of offenders completing such programmes (as opposed to ‘RARs’, for which they are required to pick up the costs), which CRCs have linked to the declining quality of PSRs. (In response, the NPS and CRCs have begun working on an ‘Effective Sentencing Framework’, which will seek to address this issue by guiding report writers toward the appropriate sentence.) 

Looking in detail at the mix of requirements commenced under community sentences it appears that COs became slightly more punitive between 2012 and 2015 (45% of sentenced included requirements deemed as principally punitive in 2015 compared to 41% in 2012) - 47 following changes introduced through the Crime and Courts Act. However, this is still someway short of the government’s intended ambition that every CO includes a punitive element.

Loss of confidence by magistrates 

Interviews conducted with magistrates for this report found that there is a high confidence in the principle of community sentences and what they are designed to achieve. However, a new survey by Crest shows that magistrates lack confidence in the practical effectiveness of community sentences. Our survey shows that:  

● Over a third of magistrates (37%) are not confident that community sentences are an effective alternative to custody 
● Two thirds (65%) are not confident that community sentences reduce or deter crime 
● 45% are not confident that community sentences effectively rehabilitate offenders 
● Three quarters (76%) are not confident that community sentences protect the public 
● Half (49%) are not confident that community sentences can be tailored to suit the individual needs of an offender 
● Just under a third (30%) are not confident that community sentences provide an appropriate response to the range of low-to-medium level offences they cover.

Drivers of decline

Our key conclusions: 

● The primary driver of is declining confidence in community sentences, which relates to long term structural issues to do with the operation of the CJS 
● In particular, the lack of information accessed by magistrates (pre- and post-sentence) and the declining quality of advice pre-sentencing from probation seem to have been key factors 
● It is possible that the number of community sentences may have fallen due to a change in the cohort of offenders, in particular, with a rise in prolific offenders, but this is unlikely to have been the primary driver of changes in sentencing behaviour 
● These trends pre-date recent policy changes, such as TR, though TR is likely to exacerbate the problems. In particular, the split between CRCs and the NPS, and the structure of CRC contracts is in all likelihood going to reduce confidence even further 
● Longer term, the biggest barrier to confidence is likely to be the continuing evidence (and perception) of low effectiveness

The role of probation

Another possible explanation for the decline in community sentences is an increasing risk aversion within the probation service in recommending community sentences in PSRs.

A growing target-driven culture 

Many of the probation staff we interviewed felt that the move to a more target-driven culture in probation (which began around 2003-04) had had significant implications for the provision and delivery of community sentences. Historically, the stated role of the probation service had been to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ offenders until the establishment of NOMS in 2004, when the emphasis shifted toward a focus on punishment, rehabilitation and public protection. Focus group participants were in agreement that the combined impact of these changes had been to drive an emphasis on process, rather than outcomes, leading to greater risk-aversion across the system and, crucially, reducing the amount of time officers spent with offenders. 

Focus group participants suggested that probation has been heavily influenced by changes in political ideology, meaning that the service provision, at least in the time the participants had been in probation (for most, over a decade), was in constant flux. This, they suggested, meant that offenders were now confused by the system - making it less likely that they would complete their requirements and harder for probation officers to fulfil their duties. 

Reduced quality of advice, pre-sentencing 

Before imposing a custodial or community sentence, the court is required to obtain a PSR unless the court is of the opinion that a report is unnecessary in all the circumstances of the case. PSRs are prepared by probation officers for consideration pre-sentencing, both in the magistrates’ courts and in the Crown Courts. They are designed to give information to the sentencer about the circumstances and context of the case and the offender. Some reports can be prepared on the day by NPS court officers. These reports are for cases already known to the probation service, or if the case is straightforward ('Oral' and 'Fast Delivery' reports). 

Others require a fuller assessment carried out by a probation officer ('Standard Delivery Reports'). Nationally, only 69% of the PSRs that proposed a community sentence are followed by a community sentence being given, compared to 81% of PSRs that propose custody.

The types of report prepared for magistrates have also changed dramatically over the last decade. In 2006, standard written reports made up the majority of PSRs (66%) - in 2015 they made up 11%. By the same token, almost half of reports in 2015 were delivered orally, compared to just 5% in 2006.

This change in PSR is indicative of a conscious policy transition from standard PSRs (which can take up to 15 working days to prepare) toward fast oral reports (which can be prepared in 20 minutes). The guidelines published by the sentencing council recommend that "ideally a pre-sentence report should be completed on the same day to avoid adjourning the case". A 69 recent report into efficiency in the criminal justice system recommended a move to dispense with PSRs where possible or replace them with oral reports in cases which do not require a PSR, i.e. a community order which includes a single requirement that does not necessitate the involvement of probation (e.g. a curfew order). 

Our interviews with probation staff supported these findings. Many held the view that the changing nature of PSRs meant that they now lack detail, which could mean that requirements being handed out as a result of report recommendations are not always appropriately tailored to the individual offender. Some participants felt that these effects had been exacerbated by TR, with NPS staff lacking the time/resources to draft PSRs of the requisite quality and detail. As a result, offenders were increasingly being handed a community sentence that would not address the root causes of their behaviour, would not allow probation to effectively do their job, and result in the offender coming back in front of the courts. Whilst efficiency and speed are to be sought after in the delivery of justice, it is not evident that the appropriate balance with quality has been struck.

The impact of recent policy reform

There is little doubt that the problems surrounding community sentences pre-date the roll-out of TR, and until data on reoffending are compiled in late 2017, judgements about the overall performance of probation services must remain partial. However, evidence compiled by the NAO and from our focus groups suggest that TR may have exacerbated long term problems that have been affecting the system in certain ways. These are set out below: 

Communication between probation and the court 

Under the terms of TR, CRC staff are not allowed in the court, despite retaining responsibility for 70% of offenders serving community sentences. There is emerging evidence that this has reduced levels of communication between sentencers and probation, whilst reducing the quality of the PSR. For example, in our interviews with magistrates and probation staff, nearly all participants felt that the split (between CRCs and the NPS) as a result of TR had increased the distance between magistrates and probation staff, as they no longer had any direct interaction with the people that worked with these offenders. 

“We feel more at arm’s length from probation.” - Magistrate

The range/quality of locally available rehabilitation provision 

The volume of work that CRCs are paid for, as measured by the payment mechanism, has been much lower than expected and promised in the original contracts from the MoJ. This reduced funding, combined with rising caseloads (following the introduction of statutory supervision, which is unpaid) has impacted upon the ability of CRCs to commission innovative/new provision i.e. anything which is not on an agreed ‘rate card’. It is also clear, as indicated in Table 3, that CRCs’ ability to deliver the core requirements of community sentences varies greatly across the country. As far as existing data suggests, in the worst performing CRCs, three in ten programme requirements are not successfully delivered, and one in five unpaid work requirements is not fully completed.

The impact of TR on local delivery 

To understand how TR has impacted on the confidence and perceptions of sentencers and service users, qualitative research was undertaken in Greater Manchester and Norfolk. The aim was to test whether TR has exacerbated existing factors that have contributed to the decline in community sentences, and ascertain whether further decline can be expected. The findings are explored below. 

Inflexibility of the TR model to tailor provision to local needs 

The one-size-fits-all TR model commissioned at the national level is too rigid to be adapted for all offenders and all contexts at the local level: 

● The model doesn’t necessarily fit with Greater Manchester’s vision for managing women offenders, who, according to TR, must be assessed by a probation officer in custody, rather than at a women’s centre 
● Rigid scrutiny from central government, with three separate MoJ teams regularly demanding input/engagement from CRC staff, generates a significant amount of work. The sentiment from CRC staff is that they feel like they are ‘feeding the machine’ rather than actually delivering for local communities. 

Contract specifications and payment schedules are based around processes and volumes, rather than outcomes 

Whilst the MoJ operating model talks about TR as an outcomes-focused programme, with maximum flexibility for providers, the reality, post-award, is that CRCs are being micromanaged and innovation is being stifled: 

● CRCs are measured according to 16 separate service levels (including the number of starts on unpaid work; how many plans are completed in 10 days; timeliness for recalling people to prison etc). There are financial penalties attached for not meeting these service levels. 
● The completion rates for behavioural programmes have generally been much lower than anticipated. Even though the pipeline of participants is not in the CRC’s gift (it is the NPS that makes advice to the court on those programmes), it is the CRC that ends up being financially penalised by the MoJ. This creates a vicious circle whereby the overall fee for service falls, discretionary funds are reduced and the CRC becomes more risk averse about innovating/commissioning new things. 

CRCs are supposed to be rewarded for reducing reoffending through a system of ‘payment by results’ (PbR). However, PbR doesn’t really feature in the CRCs’ day-to-day work as it is simply too far away to drive behaviours. This has led to CRCs chasing the short term fee for service. 

The rate card does not incentivise new services to be commissioned 

There is little evidence of new commissioning, as a result of: 

● The economics – unless the CRC can guarantee a certain volume of referrals, it will not go to the effort of commissioning new services 
● Lack of responsiveness – all CRCs have a standard rate card with a fixed price; there is no mechanism to vary the price and make it more attractive to the purchaser (e.g. a drink and drivers’ programme should cost a tenth of what it costs to deliver a violence reduction programme, yet it costs the same price) 
● Central government control – even when the CRC and NPS have managed to work together in co-commissioning a new discretionary service/product for ex-offenders, they have been unable to progress it to implementation because the MoJ insists on signing off on any new services added to the rate card – a process which has proved to be lengthy and bureaucratic.

Contracts do not incentivise breach enforcement

In addition to the problems identified above, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that breaches are less likely to be enforced as a result of TR. It has been suggested to us that the way in which the contracts for CRCs have been designed has created perverse incentives to disengage with an offender if the breach process is triggered. Once an offender breaches their conditions, the MoJ issues a financial penalty on the CRC, as an offender is only eligible for PbR the first time they commence an eligible sentence, meaning that those who breach their sentence are no longer eligible for payment, regardless of the support the CRC may have already provided. 

HM Inspectorate of Probation has found variability in enforcement processes across the CRCs, with some experiencing high rejection rates from the NPS for their breach recommendations. HMIP found that many recommendations were returned because of minor spelling and grammatical errors, and the NAO also identified an “inherent risk that offender managers may avoid ‘breaching’ offenders where this would affect CRC performance against targets for successful completion of orders if the court order is subsequently revoked”. A recent Justice Inspectorate report followed these earlier warnings, and stated “we were disappointed to find, in a third of cases where the individual was breached, insufficient effort was made by the CRC responsible officer to re-engage them and encourage their commitment to continued engagement”.