Friday, 5 August 2016

New Look Probation

The Probation Inspectorate's report into the Durham Tees Valley area gives us an opportunity to see in some detail what a 'transformed' probation service looks like:-

5.1. Effectiveness of the CRC 

Organisational issues 

DTV was a small CRC covering a relatively large geographical area. It sat within two police force areas, those of Durham and Cleveland. At the time of the inspection, the CRC had concluded a major review of its operating arrangements and management structure, with the two CRC Local Delivery Units (LDUs), one for Durham and the other for Tees Valley (sometimes described as Teesside or Cleveland), combined into one. The former arrangement of two LDUs, however, was in place for the entire period we inspected. We looked at the work from Durham LDU, which included work with participants living in County Durham and the unitary authority of Darlington. 

In common with other CRCs, DTV CRC had to deal with all incoming requests for data, renegotiations of contracts, Probation Instructions, IT and other procurement issues, buildings, inspection, National Offender Management Service (NOMS) audits, staffing matters and anything else to do with running a private sector body delivering a contract to central government. As DTV was a small entity, this had stretched the CRC’s limited management resources considerably since June 2014. 

The projected workloads calculated prior to Transforming Rehabilitation had not come to fruition.* For DTV, the actual workload was around 30% lower than anticipated. That had an adverse impact on the CRC’s income. In order to manage its budget, the CRC had reviewed its management capacity and operating model. Additionally, they had lost frontline staff via natural attrition since Transforming Rehabilitation. For the whole of the CRC, i.e. the area covered by both Durham and Tees Valley, this had amounted to a reduction in the overall staffing complement of over 15% between June 2014 and April 2016 (with offender management reduced by about 23%). DTV had historically been a Probation Trust that enjoyed a low staff turnover, and most of the staff in post at the time of this inspection had been employed by the Trust prior to Transforming Rehabilitation. They retained a strong sense of loyalty and attachment to their new employing organisation. Overall, we found staff morale was good. With all the changes experienced, that, in itself, was a positive finding.

ARCC, the owning body, had appointed a new, independent, Chair in January 2016. The post-holder was a respected individual with a high-profile probation background. His, and ARCC’s, immediate priorities were to deliver improved governance arrangements, gain financial security for the CRC and provide a focus on performance (particularly that which had a financial impact). At the time of the inspection, this was work in progress, delivered with a fresh impetus. 

Shortly before the start of this inspection, the CRC had completed the planned move of its staff from the offices it had previously shared with the NPS, introducing remote or ‘agile’ working. This involved staff working from within their local communities, in community justice hubs and ‘office work’ from home when appropriate. While hubs had been in operation within DTV since 2011, historically they had mainly been used as reporting centres for those who had sufficiently addressed their offending related needs and could be managed on a ‘maintenance’ basis. The new method of working for operational staff from the CRC involved most contact with ‘participants’, the term used by the CRC to describe offenders or service users, taking place within the community hubs throughout their period of supervision. 

The new operating model provided one CRC office in Durham (there was a second CRC office in Stockton-on-Tees, for the south part of the CRC area). The senior management function operated across both sites. At the time we inspected, there were 17 hubs across the whole of the Durham area. This new way of working was dependent on responsible officers having appropriate and reliable IT facilities. It was impressive that the CRC had successfully delivered the required technological solution with so little staff dissatisfaction.

Phase two of IT developments needed to support the operating model, that is, delivery of its locally developed case management and workflow system, was scheduled for roll-out later in the year. There were a number of external barriers to be overcome with NOMS before phase two was available to responsible officers. The new case management and workflow system had been designed to provide real-time information to staff, and flag up what individual officers needed to do and by when to maximise CRC income through achievement of contractual performance measures. 

Like all other CRCs, DTV CRC was subject to monitoring against the contractual targets it had with NOMS. At the end of March 2016, the CRC was performing well against their contractual requirements and those measures applied by NOMS to provide assurance. 

Through the Gate resettlement services were introduced in May 2015 as part of the contract for CRCs. The aim was to provide access to resettlement services for all prisoners, including those remanded in custody and those who were subject to sentences of less than 12 months. The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 introduced statutory post-release supervision for short sentence prisoners. This group of offenders had long been recognised as having very high rates of reoffending, and Through the Gate services were introduced to address that. Within the CRC area, Durham had higher reoffending rates than England & Wales as a whole, with those in Darlington being higher than those for County Durham (Appendix 2 Table 5). 

The CRC had deployed considerable resources into Through the Gate, more than was reflected within the ‘fee for service’ income paid for delivery of these services by NOMS. That was encouraging, and demonstrated the CRC’s commitment to tackling high reoffending rates. Through the Gate provided a service to prisoners in relation to accommodation; finance and debt; and education, training and employment (ETE). Support was also offered to sex workers and those who were victims of domestic abuse. 

Although opportunities were in place for the NPS to purchase programmes and services from the CRC, in practice this happened infrequently. Normally, this only occurred when mandated by the sentence of the court. The CRC was unable to access court trend data or identify wider offender needs, which meant they were less able, proactively, to spot the gaps in provision and fill them.

* National Audit Office ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ report dated 28 April 2016. Paragraph 4.3 says ‘The extent and pace of CRCs’ transformation plans have become more uncertain because their case volumes are much lower than planned during bidding. Volumes are down between 6% and 36% against the mid-point agreed in the contracts’.

Operational issues 

The CRC had produced a document entitled Processes and Quality Standards – Community Justice Hub, which set out the requirements, beliefs and practices for the hubs. This included health and safety considerations for staff working in them. The CRC saw the hubs as offering a one-stop shop facility for participants, providing a supportive environment to help them move away from, and out of, offending. The aspiration was to provide a physical environment that they described within the document as: ‘welcoming, informal, educational and purposeful, often comprised of a café type layout in a community centre where members of the local community are already attending. When the community justice hubs are operating well, they should resemble a vibrant community centre that anyone would want to attend, where colleagues, participants and agencies can have refreshments together, access the internet, and move forward together offering and accessing support and guidance. There should be a buzz atmosphere’. 

During the two weeks of the inspection, we inspected in ten of the community justice hubs across Durham. In some, we spent considerable periods of time and observed how they worked in practice. We spoke with responsible officers, participants, staff from other agencies, volunteers and a peer mentor. While a number of the hubs clearly met the aims of the CRC, others fell short. We thought the level of services provided at an individual hub would have a direct impact on a participant’s experience and progress towards desistance. The limited times some hubs were open, including some only available fortnightly, potentially had an adverse impact for some participants - for example those on weekly appointments or in employment. Senior managers described some of the less busy hubs, which offered little in the way of partner or provider attendance, as ‘reporting centres’. Their view was that participants could move between hubs to access services. In reality, for a number of participants that was not a practicable option. 

There was variable attendance of other agencies at the hubs, and, even when they did attend, their times on site were often uncertain. At the busiest hubs, Foundation Housing and an Integrated Offender Management (IOM) police officer were frequently present. Careers advice was also provided, with Change4Life (general health) and Lifeline (substance misuse) also attending. Support from administrative staff at the hubs had been withdrawn a few weeks prior to our inspection. Responsible officers staffing the busier hubs regretted the loss of that support. As a consequence of the withdrawal of administrators, the ‘meet and greet’ role at the hubs then fell to responsible officers, which some felt detracted from their ability to undertake their main duties. 

At the time of the inspection, the CRC was working towards integrating volunteers into the hub teams. There was no strategy or policy document in relation to volunteers, but there was an intention to produce a policy that would include role descriptions and identified areas of responsibility. There was one active peer mentor in Durham, but others were in place across the CRC as a whole. 

Following receipt of the required health and safety training, each responsible officer had been provided with a security device called Identicom which was a global position system locator. It provided a microphone so the individual responsible officer was able to ask for help if an urgent situation arose. Not all the hubs were easy to manage from a health and safety perspective. Some of them gave open access through the front door, and in some hubs there was a risk staff on duty may not have known who was in the building at all times.

Hubs were well located within the communities they served, with good access by public transport. Some would have benefited from better signage. In our view, there was a good geographical spread of hubs. 

In those less busy hubs where responsible officers were often waiting for participants to arrive, and where there were a lack of other agencies in attendance, reliability of the IT arrangements meant staff on duty could undertake administrative tasks without detriment to their productivity. We saw one hub, however, where responsible officers were having difficulty connecting via their laptops’ wireless connection. To address that, senior managers had provided all responsible officers with a compatible smartphone that provided a ‘hot spot’ boost to improve connectivity. Managers were reviewing the effectiveness of the arrangements to make sure they were reliable and cost effective. We thought the IT arrangements provided to responsible officers were impressive, with improved functionality promised for the relatively near future. 

Overall, we thought there was great promise in the hubs. The variable provision indicated a need to spread the best practice of some of the busier hubs, such as the ones in the city of Durham, across the area. In the meantime, and in acknowledgement of the difficulties they faced in securing attendance of partner and provider agencies at all the hubs as required, the CRC had an ambition, not yet realised, of arranging alternative, timely, appointments for participants with the relevant agencies. 

Accredited programmes were delivered at the CRC office on the outskirts of Durham. As it was difficult to access by public transport, bus fares were provided from participants’ homes to the city railway station, and the CRC then provided minibus transport for participants (both CRC and NPS) from the railway station to the office where accredited programmes were held. The programmes delivered by the CRC included Building Better Relationships and RESOLVE (both aimed at domestic abuse perpetrators), the Thinking Skills Programme and Drink Impaired Drivers programme. The last of these had been recently introduced in response to an identified gap in demand. Some NPS managers and responsible officers told us communication from CRC programmes staff could be improved in relation to sharing details of programmes available, current waiting times and the compliance and progress of their offenders undertaking a programme. Apart from where included as a requirement of a court order, there was little purchasing of programmes by the NPS. CRC middle managers noted a reduced demand for the Thinking Skills Programme, but could not evidence numbers due to a lack of access to court data. 

NOMS conducted an audit of three of the programmes delivered by the CRC (RESOLVE, Building Better Relationships and the Thinking Skills Programme) in late 2015, with the report issued to the CRC in March 2016. The findings were positive, with high rates of programme completions recorded (100% for RESOLVE) for the period covered by the audit. Positive feedback was received from participants and staff, with results for 12 of the 15 questions scoring higher (considerably higher in relation to some questions) than the average for all the CRCs that had undergone the audit previously. 

Harbour was delivering a rolling 27-week groupwork programme for men who were abusive and controlling towards their partners. The only exclusion was for those men who had a severe mental health condition. Although men attended the group voluntarily, attendance was enforceable if specified in relation to rehabilitation activity requirement (RAR) days. Waiting times to start the programme were only about one month. The programme was available free of charge to men from across the DTV area, with the exception of Darlington. If a perpetrator from Darlington would benefit from the service, the CRC could purchase a place for them. We saw this as a useful resource for responsible officers from across the CRC. The Harbour service manager told us, however, there had been limited take-up to date. Harbour also offered a range of other services including a women’s refuge, five women’s safety workers who had weekly contact with victims, sexual violence counselling and a programme, Freedom, that helped women understand the beliefs of abusive men.

The quality of some of the practice we saw during this inspection was not likely to lead to reduced reoffending for participants. We saw little evidence of effective management oversight. Senior managers acknowledged that spans of control for the new community participation manager positions (four for the whole of the DTV CRC area) were large, but foresaw the impending case and workflow management system identifying on a risk basis the areas for management focus. Senior managers had concluded a major piece of work whereby cases were categorised into three intensification levels (set following analysis of Offender Group Reconviction Scores, risk flags, Child Protection etc.). This work aimed to provide greater equality of workload to the CRC’s four new community participation teams and the responsible officers within them. 

Responsible officers provided a mixed picture about their training. Some thought it good; others said little had been delivered. A number of officers were positive about Child Protection training delivered in 2015. The experience profile of many CRC responsible officers meant they already possessed substantial knowledge of core probation practice. The areas of training identified by responsible officers and other staff we spoke with as being required included the national case management system (nDelius), sentence plans, working with domestic abuse perpetrators (although, again, some responsible officers said effective training had been delivered), and working with participants who had mental health problems. 

At the time of our inspection, management restructuring at senior and middle manager levels was concluding. Indeed, a number of managers left their employment with the CRC at the end of the first week of our inspection. We heard consistent messages from responsible officers about the quality of their supervision and management support. Individual middle managers were highly regarded, kept an ‘open door’ and were seen as always willing and able to help with work issues or other problems. While recognising managers were busy and stretched, however, responsible officers told us formal supervision was rarely, or in some instances not, taking place. Management support had become reactive. Some relatively inexperienced staff reported they possessed insufficient knowledge in key aspects of their job; one said oversight was minimal and there was a lack of discussion around Child Protection and domestic abuse cases. 

While caseloads appeared manageable, with the exception of Darlington (acknowledged by senior managers as high, and in the process of being redressed), the comment of one responsible officer was illuminating:
“I have a caseload that is manageable. My manager is approachable, but we have to go to them. It is not a proactive management style. This is because of our agile working. Management systems have not become agile at the same time”. 
What responsible officers told us resonated with what we found when inspecting the 31 cases: little evidence of management oversight in those cases where we would have expected to have seen it. 

In relation to Through the Gate, DTV CRC was the lead host for four prisons within its area – HMP Low Newton (housing women), HMP Durham, HMP Holme House and HMP Kirklevington Grange (an open prison). The former two of those were located in County Durham, while the latter two were in Tees Valley. The NOMS contract and compliance teams had spent a lot of time looking at Through the Gate arrangements in England & Wales, and it was not part of our remit to inspect Through the Gate activity. 

Nonetheless, we met with staff working in the ‘departure lounge’ of HMP Low Newton on this inspection. CRC staff told us they saw everyone at the prison on reception, and their first task was to complete the resettlement plan on all offenders except, from May 2016, for those from Northumbria who were the responsibility of Sodexo Changing Lives. The CRC told us the basic screening information completed by the prison was often very limited. The CRC, therefore, reviewed the basic custody screening document (BCS1) before undertaking the resettlement plan (BCS2). 

The above observation about the quality of basic custody screening documents correlated with what we had found in a pilot inspection we carried out on Through the Gate in late 2015/early 2016 with HMI Prisons. HMP Low Newton was one of the prisons visited during that pilot, and the only one that housed women who had offended. The pilot inspection had looked at prisoners due for release in the following few weeks, with a focus on those who had received sentences of less than 12 months under the new Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 legislation. A report with recommendations was sent to NOMS early in 2016. That report said ‘the overall quality of planning was significantly better in the one prison where staff were direct CRC employees. For example, there was an excellent resettlement plan prepared by the CRC staff in custody. It identified work needed on accommodation, ETE, finance, benefit and debt, and drugs. The plan was updated to show what work had been done, and in the end she was able to go back to her previous accommodation after that had been checked out.’ The prison referred to in the above comment about the overall quality of planning was HMP Low Newton. 

DTV CRC worked with two supply chain providers in Durham to provide Through the Gate services. The Wise Group offered the full range of services to prisoners to address their offending-related needs. When CRC staff identified needs that required addressing, they made a referral to Wise. 

North East Prisoner After Care Society ran the visitors’ centre and departure lounge. On the morning we visited, a woman who had been released commented, in our presence, on the welcoming and friendly environment provided within the departure lounge. We thought it provided a positive transition following release and prior to a released prisoner making their journey home. In the case of the woman released when we were present, the CRC probation service officer (PSO) within the Through the Gate team clarified the woman’s understanding of her licence conditions before she set off on her journey home. That woman had no accommodation to return to, which augured badly for her ability to avoid future offending. She admitted she was likely to mix with sophisticated offenders as soon as she arrived in her home area, and was therefore likely to steal to fund her drug use. 

The CRC held Wise to account by a monthly operational contract meeting. North East Prisoner After Care Society was able to show us many positive testimonials from women who had used and appreciated the departure lounge facility. 

To date, the CRC had not managed to become as involved as they would have liked in the general induction programme offered to all new prisoners, which would have provided an opportunity to motivate prisoners to take advantage of the Through the Gate arrangements. While the CRC copied resettlement plans into PNOMIS (the prison case management system), which we thought good practice, their staff did not have access to nDelius in the prison. That meant information had to be sent via secure email and then entered into the case management system by case administrators. That was not efficient, and potentially led to delays in sharing information with responsible officers. 

For women leaving HMP Low Newton, there was a volunteer mentor/support group, Open Gate. It primarily helped with the practical issue of transporting women to the local train station, which would have been otherwise problematic due to the rural location of the prison. There was a reasonable range of interventions available to women in the prison, including the Freedom Programme and those provided by Relate. 

Elsewhere, the CRC was unable to get Through the Gate outcome data from the NPS or out of area CRCs. Prisoners were low down on the priority list for local authorities, and few left prison with settled accommodation. Despite that, senior managers were clear Through the Gate was the right thing in which to invest their resources, but would be keeping the scheme under review. 

The CRC contributed to a range of social action projects in Darlington that enabled participants to make a positive contribution to their community. This chimed with the theory that desistance from offending was promoted by ‘normalising’ the individual who had offended and integrating them, as someone of value, into their local community. At the heart of the initiative was a desire to deliver effective programmes to reduce reoffending, through placing social investment in the community at the heart of rehabilitation. It took the premise that, if a person was to move forward and make positive changes to their life that reduced the likelihood of them reoffending, they needed to be able to develop a more positive sense of self. 

At the time of the inspection, there were three social action schemes with which the CRC was involved, all run under the umbrella heading of ‘Making good by giving back’. There was a monthly lunch club attached to the Darlington Fire Station community justice hub. The lunch club acted as an opportunity for participants to develop work-based and life skills, build their confidence and improve their likelihood of gaining employment.
Good practice example: The first cohort of participants attending the Darlington Fire Station lunch club gained a level 2 certificate in food hygiene. One-third of the participants went on to gain employment in the catering industry. A participant who had volunteered at the lunch club said: “Taking part in social action was the best thing I had done for myself, or anyone else, in a long time. It gave me the confidence to try something new. I had not worked for many years, but my experience here gave me the courage to apply for a job as a clerk. I know it is not in catering, but being involved in social action has helped me believe in myself again and has given me something to put on my CV and the confidence to go to an interview. And yes, I got the job!” 
The second social action project was a peace garden. The CRC worked with a local councillor on designing, planning and creating it in tribute to two First World War veterans who lived locally. The garden was scheduled to open in July 2016 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The CRC was planning to be involved in its ongoing maintenance. 

The third social action project was a joint venture with FRADE, a furniture re-use charity. Participants from the CRC and volunteers had renovated buildings at the back of the charity’s furniture shop. The aim of the project was for donated furniture to be renovated in the workshops and then sold in FRADE’s shop, with a percentage of the profits reinvested in the social action project. The project, entitled Re-build, provided a wrap-around service for participants with an opportunity for them to develop CVs and receive careers advice. Although the building works were only just completed at the time of our inspection, we met with some of the individuals involved in the work. One young man told us how working on the project had raised his confidence levels and he had achieved an interview for a job the following week. A different participant told us how the CRC staff involved on the project had treated him and others with decency. 

We thought the social action projects were ideal ventures in which individuals subject to CRC supervision could be encouraged to participate. Such attendance could be counted as RAR days. Throughout the inspection, we found confusion about RAR days from sentencers, managers and responsible officers alike. It was disappointing, therefore, that staff involved with the social action projects expressed concerns about a lack of ‘buy-in’ from responsible officers and their worries referrals would not be forthcoming.


  1. So they withdraw administrative support and give everyone a personal alarm( the market in this technology is rocketing), which nicely covers some of their H&S responsibilities. But no one in a position to 'meet and greet' and know who is in the building. I thought this information was vital in respect of fire risks. Seemingly not. Thus the Inspectorate writes:

    ' Not all the hubs were easy to manage from a health and safety perspective. Some of them gave open access through the front door, and in some hubs there was a risk staff on duty may not have known who was in the building at all times.'

    Seems to me the Inspectorate is clearly identifying a H&S hazard: having a real-time awareness of who is in the building is of paramount importance. Aside from the risks of walk-in thefts, there is a basis lack of security in not knowing who is on your premises.

    I suspect if a H&S risk was identified in relation to service users or children, it would have been reflected in the report's recommendations. But
    the recommendations are silent on this point of potential risks to staff of running a poorly supervised hub.

  2. I'll have what the creators of that CRC quality standards document are having! Legal highs?

    This document aspires to provide a physical environment in the hubs, describing them to be..'welcoming, informal, educational and purposeful, often comprised of a café type layout in a community centre where members of the local community are already attending. When the community justice cuts are operating well' -(splutter choke)- 'they should resemble a vibrant community centre that ANYONE would WANT to attend,where colleagues, participants-(offenders) and agencies, can have refreshments together, access the internet and move forward together, offering and accessing support and guidance. There should be a buzz atmosphere.' !!!

    ..and the little dog laughed and they all lived happily ever after....

    I can see so many reasons why this will/should never happen.

    1. You should read around desistance theory by Fergus McNeill. It may be enlightening as to the approach and help us all understand