Up until now most of the attention has focused on how the TR omnishambles will affect probation in the community, but what about seconded colleagues in prison? Well, I've become aware of the contents of a very interesting set of documents concerning what those bright young things down at MoJ HQ have planned, and I thought I'd share them with you. I think most would agree that the lack of probation expertise at the top is definitely beginning to show.
This is the first then and apologies for the length, but this is important stuff and will require some careful and critical consideration. I'll hold back from making comment at this stage, but readers are strongly invited to comment.
Management of cases during the custodial period
At the OMCP Board of 2 September 2013, CL presented a paper (attached in full at Annex A) that argued that offender management responsibility for MAPPA and high risk cases should be transferred from community-based OMs (the current OM Model), to seconded probation officers in custody. This proposal was in line with the original plan of the Specifications, Benchmarking and Costing teams.
The paper argued that the benefits of this change would include:
- answering criticisms of HM Inspectorates of Probation and Prisons of the present ‘end to end’ model, which state that the original goal of case continuity has never been realised;
- allowing the OM in custody to build up a professional relationship with their offender cohorts face to face, thus improving the offender experience of Offender Management;
- enabling the OM in custody to drive the sentence plan more effectively; and
- ensuring prisoners’ sentences are not left poorly managed during the core custodial period because OMs must prioritise their community caseload.
Specifically, the Board raised the following queries:
- Further information on the costs of the proposal;
- A concern that probation staff had no line management responsibility in prisons could mean that relevant intelligence sharing in prison may not be fully integrated, and as a consequence critical information is not used to inform risk and case management;
- The consequence of not having a single Offender Manager (OM) throughout a whole sentence is there is a potential impact on consistency and continuity of management;
- a further assessment of the impact on community-facing agencies, particularly MAPPA;
- the impact on the experience of the offender should be examined further; and
- the impact of the proposal on the TTG process for short sentence NPS cases should be further explained.
- West Midlands Offender Management Regional Group
- London Probation Trust (Resettlement & SFO Manager, and all prison-facing SPOs)
- Head of Offender Management, HMP Chelmsford
- HM Inspectorate of Probation
- HMP Inspectorate of Prisons
- Directorate of Probation and Contracted Services
- Transforming Rehabilitation Programme Team (including the OM design, ‘Through the Gate’, Public Probation, and costs leads
- Business Development Group, NOMS
- MAPP and Public Protection Team, OMPPG
- HMPS Public Protection Lead, South Central Region
The activity around the management of a case during custody does not increase much in this option against that which is currently required. Based on the core principles of the ASPIRE model (Assess, Sentence Plan, Implement, Review, Evaluate), the OM, wherever they are based, will deliver the same role. Rather, some of current activity will transfer from the community to the custodial setting. The key activity to transfer would be the completion of assessment and planning (OASys). Other key tasks relating to the oversight and directing of a sentence are already captured within the emerging benchmark for the custody-based probation role and do not, therefore, represent uncosted pressures.
The tasks that will remain with the community probation officer and not transfer are still to be confirmed, but an example is that the community probation officer might still be invited to sentence planning meetings alongside both the key custodial staff, to keep up to date with the case, meaning that three staff could be involved in a task that previously required only two. Currently, some community Offender Managers travel into the prison to interview offenders and attend sentence planning meetings, as opposed to using video links). This practice of physically attending the prison will not be necessary under the proposed option and, therefore, could cancel out the resource impact of having a third person involved in sentence planning meetings. However, if this aspect does develop into a significant resource gap that cannot be bridged, some of the desirable but not essential elements of best practice could be covered as guidance of best practice, as opposed to mandatory actions.
So, whilst this proposal does impact on current cost model assumptions with regard to activity distribution, there is no major tangible change in overall offender manager resource, for the following reasons:
- the roles of Offender Supervisor, custody-based probation officer and community probation officer will be clearly defined to avoid any unnecessary duplication or overlap (see Annex B for a breakdown of the key roles during the custodial period);
- the responsibilities of custody-based probation staff in relation to overseeing and driving the NPS cohort cases are already built into the benchmarking role definition and assumptions and
- the resource for completing assessment and planning for Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPP) cases currently sits with the community. However, this is the same level of resource that would be required by the custody probation officer to do the same task
Probation staff influence in prisons
As highlighted above, there is a concern that probation staff have no line management responsibility within the prison which could affect the sharing of intelligence. If this were the case, it would impact on the quality of offender management.
It is envisaged that the custody-based probation officer, acting as OM for retained public cases, will be working closely and directly with a designated Offender Supervisor, thus improving the relationships and, therefore, the ability to effectively manage these cases. This working relationship is already replicated in many parts of the estate, although with seconded probation officers acting as Offender Supervisors.
With regard to the OM influence in prisons, it is the existing model that presents more difficulty: if the OM were based in the prison, there would be a far greater prospect of generating good working relationships and developing strong protocols around sharing of information and working towards common goals. The proposed new approach therefore actually improves the potential for the OM to drive the case and engage productively with prison colleagues.
Impact on continuity of not having a single OM throughout sentence
The intention of the original OM Model was to have a single OM for the duration of a sentence in order to provide continuity and stability of case management. However, existing practice has failed to deliver this aspiration. HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Probation have confirmed that in over 40% of cases, the Offender Manager has changed during the custodial period, and most often at the critical pre-release stage of the custodial period. This point aside, even where an offender has had a single OM throughout custody, the OM has usually proved unable to drive the sentence and to engage prison-based staff in offender management during this time. The opportunity to develop a good working relationship with the offender has proved limited, as OMs have not usually been able to meet the offender due to geographical and time constraints. Video conferencing has somewhat mitigated this effect, but not enough to allow the original intention to be fulfilled. Further, where the OM has visited, the prison regime impact on offender availability (relative low priority given to offender management meetings) has led to a number of meetings cancelled on the day, making the visit wasted. These conclusions have been a consistent finding of HMIP reports, further supported by a forthcoming National Audit Office report into the management of indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) cases.
It is true that the proposed option will mean the OM will change each time a prisoner transfers to another prison. For the most challenging and disruptive prisoners, this could imply several changes of OM. However, the norm (assuming the prison re-alignment work delivers its anticipated benefits) is likely to involve fewer transfers than currently, as there will be a clear purpose for each prison transfer, making it easier for staff to plan a logical transfer based on an individual’s sentence length and identified risks/needs. A critical aspect to get right, to make either approach work, is to improve the quality of handover. To this end, we have worked closely with the benchmarking team, to ensure the emerging seconded probation role is adequately resourced for such handovers to occur on prison transfer. The new OASys platform means assessments are more readily available immediately to the staff in the receiving prison, which will aid effective handovers. Further, the pre-release handover event is a key aspect of the ‘Through the Gate’ work stream of the Rehabilitation Programme. For the NPS and CRC managed cases, there is a costed requirement for this activity, which now needs appropriate guidance drafted and delivered by the Offender Management Change programme (OMCP) to ensure the handover of a case is not detrimental to the overall aims of the sentence. This task is part of our wider practice guidance plans.
Impact on community facing agencies and processes, particularly MAPPA
Fundamental to effective offender management is good quality involvement in and input to MAPPA and other public protection processes. Currently, a prison can struggle to obtain information in relation to MAPPA until nearer the end of a sentence. Even at that stage, there are too many examples where a MAPPA level is known, but not shared with the prison.
Further, often prisons as a whole don’t understand enough about the different levels of MAPPA, and the custody-based probation officer role could improve this significantly. Moving prisons away from relating public protection just to escape risk is an important developmental need for NOMS.
By having much more significant and present probation officer involvement throughout a custodial sentence, their accumulated knowledge of the offender would become invaluable when considering risk management arrangements for release. Further, the prison would be much more aware of the likely MAPPA level and risk management requirements before the final part of the sentence.
As described earlier, the proposed model does not negate the need for a designated community probation officer (CPO). The CPO would continue to have critical public protection responsibilities, including in relation to MAPPA and victims. The proposed option, as long as it is appropriately resourced, should not therefore pose a threat to these responsibilities. In fact, it potentially enhances them, as increased knowledge about the offender can translate into a more effective risk management plan developed between the community and custody probation officers. As noted by the Board, it is important that the roles and responsibilities of each of these officers are clearly outlined, and Annex B seeks to provide a detailed breakdown of those responsibilities in relation to MAPPA and other critical tasks.
Currently, the responsibility for opening a ViSOR record for violent offenders at MAPPA Levels 2 and 3 (Category 2) sits with the community Offender Manager, as lead worker. This means that often, the prison cannot record anything in ViSOR during the core part of the custodial period, as the record is not opened until the pre-release stage of sentence. By having the lead worker for these cases based in the prison, it means the ViSOR record can often be opened earlier, allowing the prison to start to record information, potentially as soon as custody commences. This would bring practice into line with what is currently achieved with Category 1 (sex offenders) MAPPA cases (all Levels), where the police are the lead workers and open the ViSOR record pre-custody.
At around 8 months pre-release, the community Offender Manager completes a screening, making a recommendation as to which MAPPA level an offender is to be managed at in the community, for approval by a MAPPA Board if level 2 or 3 is recommended. As the custody based probation officer will have had more engagement in the case during the custodial period (notwithstanding prison transfers), they would be best placed to make this recommendation of MAPPA level and present to the initial MAPPA Board. In order to ensure an effective handover, it is envisaged that the community probation officer would have sight of the screening and recommendation and also attend that initial MAPPA meeting. After this initial meeting, the formal handover of responsibilities would commence, and the community probation officer, as the lead worker, would attend all future MAPPA meetings, even if the offender was still in custody at the time of those further meetings.
The offender’s experience of OM
The new model should improve the OM experience of the offender. One of the more common complaints by prisoners is the lack of engagement with, or sight of, their OMs, until near, or even on, release. This perception suggests that currently, the continuity of individuals acting as OM has no real bearing on the offender’s experience of offender management, notwithstanding some examples of good practice. By contrast, under the proposed model, the OM, appropriately resourced, would be a visible figure, beyond a once annual meeting, seen to be proactively managing and, importantly, involved in the offender’s sentence.
Whilst the proposed option has the potential for some confusion, not least through transfer between prisons and the changes to OMs and Supervisors that would go along with this, if the model and practice (including handovers) were implemented well, this need not be a significant issue. Indeed, the developing seconded probation role has some allocated time already for familiarisation with new cases, including transfers, representing the opportunity to deliver a sound handover of cases between prisons. Further, OMCP would need to ensure that communications to offenders about the offender management model and changes was strong.
Taking into account the fact that Offender Supervisors are already changed at each transfer, there is some experience operationally as to how best to manage these changes. Processes on transfer must be handled as well as possible through policy and guidance, based on good practice, and this is a task for the OM Change Programme to deliver against.
Through the Gate Model for short sentence NPS cases
An issue was raised around the impact of the proposed approach on the NPS management of short sentence (under 12 months) cases. The intention for all cases is to handover at 6 months pre-release (or 8 months in MAPPA cases), or as long as possible before release, depending on length of sentence. Therefore, for short sentenced NPS-managed prisoners, the community probation officer would be responsible for the case from the beginning of the sentence, because there would be a maximum (subject to added days) of 6 months to serve in any case.
Other Suggested Improvements
It will remain important that all relevant intelligence is passed on to community probation and so to organisations like MAPPA and SOCA where relevant. We have two suggestions for improving these links.
1) Offender Management Units (OMUs) in prisons often do not have a high enough profile and status and are, therefore, not often able to influence other departments within the prison to a sufficient extent. This issue is evidenced through the constant use of officer Offender Supervisors to plug gaps on wings or go on escorts. Further, the challenges of delivering effective offender management around the prison regime and routine are significant, and it is common that scheduled sentence planning review meetings are cancelled as a direct result of a lack of understanding and importance attached to the work of OMUs by the wider prison. In order to resolve this, a number of changes would need to be made. One of these might be to improve the links that probation staff in prison have up the line of command. This should be aimed for and achievable as probation staff in the new world are directly employed in the same way as prison staff. Improved links would have a positive impact on the passing of intelligence to the community setting.
2) The establishment of the new National Probation Service structure will make the custody-based probation officer a NOMS role, as opposed to an external provider role. It also provides an opportunity to consider how offender management performance is reviewed. One option we are keen to explore with others is the introduction of a probation performance co-ordinator role, sitting with the regional Deputy Directors of Probation (DDP). This role, possibly at SPO level, might have two main functions:
- Support offender management activity in prisons, providing support and data to establishment SMTs in relation to offender management performance and effectiveness, and which also links to the NPS reporting line and, ultimately, through to NEMC.
- Oversee and monitor offender management performance in prisons, escalating issues for bilateral consideration between DDCs and DDPs, if necessary.
Following further consideration, and consultation with representatives of a number of stakeholders, it is clear that the proposed approach is the right one, is deliverable and has the potential to deliver improvement in the practice of managing cases throughout custody and into the community.
Work towards effective outcomes starts at the beginning of a sentence and should continue throughout the custodial period, and then into the community. The Through the Gate period is a critical one to get right, but for longer term offenders the OMCP has a responsibility to ensure that effective offender management is also in operation during the core custodial period. This proposed approach to managing cases during custody, coupled with the proposed changes to the seconded probation officer role in prisons, represents an opportunity to make a genuine and lasting difference to the quality of offender management practice in prisons. This, in turn, could give the community probation officer (and the CRC case workers for non NPS cases) a strong base upon which to build.
During the custodial period for the NPS cases, we have been unable, in the lifetime of the Offender Management model, to consistently manage and drive a sentence. This proposed approach gives a clear way of ensuring there is active management throughout this period of a sentence and it is a change we should pursue. As colleagues have pointed out, following principled assent to the proposal, it is important that further detailed work on the respective roles is completed and communicated, so as to provide absolute clarity on who is responsible for which aspect of offender management.
With all that said, senior colleagues in the Prison Unit Cost Programme and the Public Sector Prisons Directorate have expressed concern at the timing of the proposed change, in parallel with all the other changes impacting on both prisons and probation under TRP. TRP is currently locking down designs and NOMS have already started developing the operating models to deliver it. Therefore, whilst this remains an important change for the medium term improvement of offender management, it might be pragmatic to allow the TRP and Benchmarking changes to be put in place and become operational before its implementation.
This paper, therefore, proposes that:
- the Board agrees that the proposal to move responsibility for managing an offender’s case during the custodial period to the prison (Offender Supervisors for CRC cases, and seconded Probation Officers for NPS cases) should be pursued in support of improving offender management practice;
- the Board agrees that OMCP will not look to implement this change immediately, but will agree an appropriate implementation timescale with prison colleagues and will present this to NEMC for agreement.