Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Inspector's Thoughts

Sentences, sentencing and probation in the new world 

Good afternoon and thank you so much for inviting me to address what I believe to be the first meeting of the Probation-Sentencer Liaison Network. It is a privilege to do so in this beautiful building, built in 1939 in the grand, neo-georgian style. 

Sentencers and probation professionals have worked together and alongside each other since time immemorial – or at least since 1876, when probation services first began. In that year, Hertfordshire printer Frederic Rainer, a volunteer with the Church of England Temperance Society wrote to the society of his concern about the lack of help for those who come before the courts, and he donated five shillings (25p) towards a fund for practical rescue work in the police courts. The Society responded by appointing two "missionaries" to Southwark court with the initial aim of "reclaiming drunkards". This formed the basis of the London Police Courts Mission, whose missionaries worked with magistrates to develop a system of releasing offenders on the condition that they kept in touch with the missionary and accepted guidance. 

Ten years later, The Probation of First Time Offenders Act allowed for courts around the country to follow the London example of appointing missionaries, but very few did so. The 1907 Probation of Offenders Act offered some encouragement, in that it gave the missionaries official status as "officers of the court", later known as probation officers, but government gradually became rather disaffected with these missionaries – seeing them as ‘often not well educated, and their temperence orientation - securing attendance to church and encouraging pledges to avoid alcohol - overshadowed proper probation work’. That said, it was not until 1938 and as this building was built, that the service was established on a proper footing as a professional, public service. So, our association is not so ancient, after all. As with this building, it is easy to assume it is older than it is. 

Enough of the past, as we are here to talk of the present and the way this established relationship works now, in what you have called the new world. Many of you will have much more everyday experience of this than me, and experience of many years, and so I hesitate to give my own views, and will happily stand corrected. What I do have to say is taken from my short experience so far as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, and from the inspections we have undertaken during and since the implementation of the new delivery arrangements for probation services. 

We first inspected the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation in 2014 and produced our fifth and final TR implementation report in May this year. In each report we consider the relationship and working practices as between three key players – the NPS, the CRC and the court and its sentencers. Back in Autumn 2014 we found there were significant challenges in getting the court end processes working as they should. More positively, the quality of reports provided by the National Probation Service to courts supported sentencing proposals appropriately, but communications between the three key players were still developing. Arrangements have developed since then of course. Let me speak of court reports first of all, and then go on to communications between the three key players before touching, finally, on sentencing. 

Court reports 

In the last of our Transforming Rehabilitation implementation inspection reports in May this year, we found that courts reports varied in quality, with written reports generally much better than reports presented orally. 

Unsurprisingly, assessments were generally better for cases allocated to the National Probation Service than to the Community Rehabilitation Companies; these are the higher risk and Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement cases and were more likely to have been adjourned for a written report, allowing the author more time to gather information. 

In some cases the risk of serious harm presented by the offender was not fully assessed, sometimes because checks had not been made to find out whether there were concerns about child safeguarding or domestic abuse, or the results of such checks had not been received. Where information was missing at the point of sentence, this should have been recorded on the allocation documentation, but was often missing or not always read by the responsible officer to whom the case was subsequently assigned. In addition, in some cases there was no written record of the oral report which had been presented to the court. 

Some court staff had not received sufficient training, and lacked confidence in completing the necessary assessments. Some report writers did not know enough about the work offered by the local Community Rehabilitation Company, which made it difficult for them to propose interventions most likely to address the offender’s problems. Sometimes they proposed a rehabilitation activity requirement ‘to address offending behaviour’, rather than a more targeted proposal which would help the responsible officer assigned to the case quickly to plan the appropriate work. 

As you know, the new arrangements put an increased emphasis and dependency on the quality of court reporting, and this has been proving problematic, in part due to the demands of speedy justice. Oral reports are increasingly common, but a good system record and domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks are needed in all cases, so as to inform sentencing and enable Community Rehabilitation Companies to focus promptly and knowledgeably on the work needed to reduce reoffending. In addition, court staff need to be sufficiently aware of what Community Rehabilitation Companies can offer so as to advise the court appropriately in relation to rehabilitation activity requirements, a common feature of course of community sentences. 

Let me expand, and also give you an example of how these arrangements can work sufficiently well. Under the new probation service arrangements there is a fault line between the NPS and CRCs, with NPS staff preparing court reports that both sentencers and CRCs rely on. About a third of these are oral reports (to meet the needs of speedy justice). 

At the moment reports vary in quality, with written reports generally much better than reports presented orally. Sometimes checks are not made to find out whether there are concerns about child safeguarding or domestic abuse, or the results of such checks are not received in time. And sometimes those writing reports do not know enough about the work offered by the local CRC, making it difficult for them to propose interventions likely to address the offenders’ problems. 

Hats off then to the team in Hull, Humberside, where the Court administration staff initiate children's services and domestic abuse checks at the earliest opportunity and indeed when we inspected we found that on the overnight lists of those appearing in court the next day, they had already been marked with tiers, risk status and relevant information needed for court duty. This included information about domestic abuse and breach. 

We also observed discussions between the Court team and a range of people, including ushers, solicitors, and the CPS. The discussions included sharing information about individuals in the cells about whom the NPS had not been informed. Court staff were confident, known throughout the court and were knowledgeable and well regarded. They were approachable and they used their authority well, we thought. 

There was a good level of information provided by children services and the police, and the Court staff were proactive. So we saw telephone contact with DRR workers about the suitability of a DRR proposal for Crown Court. We also saw good use made of previous information known about offenders, and staff were astute in picking up where there were potential issues, including mental health concerns. 

In short, the staff had good processes, and had a really good understanding of them. They were well regarded and respected, they were thinking ahead, making the most of the good relationships they had established, and they were assiduous. They were well led. But of course, we will not find this everywhere. We are now inspecting probation services delivered by the NPS and CRCs in individual PCC areas, and let see what we have found in our two most recent inspections. 

In Derbyshire we found that overall, courts had well-established processes in place to enable the completion of quality reports, supported by full and accurate risk assessments. Court work had been prioritised within the NPS. The NPS team was seen as being well-organised and efficient in delivering work for the court. The magistrates and the Judge to whom we spoke were positive about the service received from probation staff at court. Magistrates considered that on the day reports were helpful, comprehensive and thorough. In the main, they felt confident about following the proposals in reports. They were routinely offered the full range of sentences including unpaid work, curfews and programmes. 

In our last adult probation services inspection in Kent, we found the NPS struggling in many respects but even so, Court reports were of a good standard overall. The reports we saw had proposals that focused on the right issues in four out of five cases. We thought that the overall assessment (at the point of allocation) in relation to reducing reoffending was sufficient in 73% of cases, and it was clear that those that worked in the court were thought to be delivering a high quality service. 

We will continue to look at the quality of court reports in every adult probation services inspection we do. We know there will be problems, and shortfalls in some areas and where we find that, we will make recommendations for improvement, but if our recent inspections are indicative then court work and court reports are improving. 

Of course, our recent inspections may not be indicative. We do want to know whether they do represent the position more widely, and before leaving court reporting and moving on to communications, I should say that to reassure ourselves and others, we are conducting a thematic inspection of court work, and court reporting. I am sure you will be interested in what we find, and in any recommendations we make. 


Let me turn now to communications between the three key players. By May this year, and in the last of out series of TR implementation reports, we found that those communications had improved. Certainly the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies were working and communicating better together than they were in the months immediately following implementation, although there is always room for improvement and of course there will be local variations.

So for example in our recent inspection of services for women who offend, published last month, we found Magistrates and District Judges were generally positive about their working relationships with the National Probation Service staff. They told us that they were normally able to obtain sufficient information from pre-sentence reports on women, to inform sentencing decisions. 

They commented, however, that reports were not usually female-specific and did not differentiate the needs of women from those of men. This mirrored our findings, in that we found that it was not always possible to tell the individual’s gender from reading the report. And sentencers lacked information about interventions specifically designed for women, in particular rehabilitation activity requirements and local support services. We found that concerning, of course, and I will come back to rehabilitation activity orders shortly.

Sentencers also felt they lacked information about outcomes for women, and the progress they were making following their court orders. They said they would welcome regular updates of aggregate information and trend data. Suggestions included regular newsletters, joint meetings, or informal feedback sessions. 

Despite these expressed concerns, in that inspection we found some excellent examples of good communications practice and in the time I have left today I will mention three in particular, as they relate not just to communications about women before the court. Rather, they are examples of how communications can work well more generally between the three key players (NPS, CRC and sentencers) and more widely. 

Probation Liaison Committee: Camden 

The Camden Probation Liaison Committee is attended by the District Judge and six magistrates, together with NPS senior managers. There are bi-monthly newsletters for magistrates, with updates on probation service matters. Good links exist between the legal team and probation staff. Within the court there is a community advice desk, with a debt clinic, housing advice and signposting to services. Early morning awareness-raising sessions were about to be introduced as we inspected, and this was welcomed by sentencers. 

Probation liaison meetings: Wrexham 

In Wrexham, probation/magistrates liaison meetings are held twice per year, covering a range of topics. Sentencers had a very clear understanding of the profile of women who offended in their area and the types of offences they committed, incidentally, and they also felt that good information was provided about voluntary sector services and also substance misuse services. A mental health worker was present when the court was sitting, and sentencers were able to consult with probation court duty staff if specific information about a case was required. 

Links with mental health services: Brighton and Bristol 

We have found strong links with mental health teams in both Brighton and Bristol. In Brighton, mental health workers together with police community liaison officers meet with service users where necessary, either in police custody or in the magistrates court. In Bristol, sentencers felt they received good and timely information from the mental health team. This gave them the confidence to consider recommendations for community sentences for women with complex mental health needs. 

We provide details of these examples in our Women’s thematic report, and hope that those involved in criminal justice find that they stimulate thought, and action where it is needed to improve communications.


Let me end by touching on sentencing, and one type of order in particular, as I was ask to speak about sentences, sentencing and probation in the new world. In this new world we have a new type of order, the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement order – in effect an umbrella order, with CRCs able to design and interventions to suit individuals sentenced to up to a specified number of RAR days. 

We are aware that sentencers’ confidence in these orders varies, most especially if you are not sure what interventions, what work will be undertaken with the offender, and whether or not that work is likely to be effective in reducing reoffending. We are interested in Rehabilitation Activity Requirement orders, and how they are working in practice, and indeed we have thematic inspection in hand. Field work is well underway, and we expect to publish our findings in the spring. 

And here we are doing something a little different. We will publish our report, yes, but we will also publish our view on what good RAR looks like. We will set out in a separate document what we expect to see, and what we judge is acceptable as CRCs implement RAR orders, so that all CRCs can see and refer to that, as they consider and evaluate their own practice. And over time, we hope that this will make it more likely that good RAR activity is delivered consistently, and consistently well so that sentencers can have more confidence in these orders. 


Probation started as a volunteer service with the initial aim of ‘reclaiming drunkards’. The service and our expectations of it have moved on. We now expect probation services to protect the public, ensure the sentence of the court is served, and to reduce reoffending. Probation work can get off to a good start if court reports are comprehensive and well prepared, so that sentencers can sentence confidently and appropriately. Communication between the key players before, during and after sentencing has a critical role to play. 

We will continue to inspect and report on probation services, and play our full part in both reporting good practice, and driving improvement where it is necessary in sentencing and probation in the brave new world. 

Thankyou. Thankyou for listening.

Dame Glenys Stacey 

Probation-Sentencer Liaison Network (PSLN) - The Probation Institute (PI) and Magistrates’ Association (MA) Middlesex University, 18 October 2016 


  1. And it would appear that Essex Council have forced the release of reoffending rates (until now unavailable), which may or may not give the inspectorate something else to think about.


    1. "Cllr Callaghan said: “The figures stopped coming out in mid-2014 and these start from October 2015, so we have this amazing situation where essentially, there was a year-long period where probation went under the radar in our county and we have no idea who was in the system or whether the service was working."

      “Private companies were making money while communities blighted by repeat offenders will now have no idea whether they could have been caught earlier.”

    2. ESSEX reoffending figures are to be published in the coming days for the first time since mid-2014, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed.

      Complaints had been raised in the last two public meetings of Basildon Council’s infrastructure and community scrutiny committee after the data was not made available for more than two years. The YA exclusively reported last month that the committee chairman, Labour leader Gavin Callaghan, had labelled the situation ’ridiculous’ in a public hearing. Cllr Callaghan made the comment at a September 7 meeting of the committee, after Paula Mason, the council’s community safety manager, said that since the probation service was privatised in 2014, the information had not been forthcoming. She said: “Reoffending rates, whereas we used to have the figures provided to us, with the split in the probation service we have been unable to get performance figures out of the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC).”

      Cllr Callaghan responded: “This worries me enormously, that we don’t seem to have any kind of concrete figures for reoffending. In September 2014 the act of Parliament went through to separate the probation service. It seems to me utterly ridiculous that we still don’t have any way of capturing reoffending. How can anyone – police and crime commissioner or a government minister – stand up and speak with any authority about reoffending in Essex when we don’t have a clue what is actually going on?”

      Police and crime commissioner Roger Hirst was present at the meeting and nodded at the comments. Then, in a meeting earlier this month, Owen Dickenson, community payback manager for the Essex CRC, said the organisation was not supplying the figures because it was not receiving them either. Minutes stated: “With regard to reoffending rates, Mr Dickenson advised that these were not available, as they had not been provided by the MOJ.”

      Questioned by the YA, the MOJ said the figures had previously been made available in the Local Adult Reoffending Publication, which ceased in mid-2014 after ’changes in the probation service’. However, the MOJ said it was due to publish interim reoffending figures this week, covering October 2015 to August 2016.

      Cllr Callaghan said: “The figures stopped coming out in mid-2014 and these start from October 2015, so we have this amazing situation where essentially, there was a year-long period where probation went under the radar in our county and we have no idea who was in the system or whether the service was working. Private companies were making money while communities blighted by repeat offenders will now have no idea whether they could have been caught earlier.”

    3. If prisons are overcrowded as a consequence of historical sex offences, and the violence in prisons are a consequence of psychosomatic drug use, then surely any increase in reoffending rates must be a consequence of Brexit?

  2. What on earth was that all about Glenys? Placating the sentencers? Had I been a sentencer listening to that I would have been none the wiser. And those RARs, it is a mystery what they are meant to be for. Not easy to know where to signpost people so they can be "seen to" and their offending behaviour cured. Even if you signpost someone to go somewhere you would need to have a system whereby you can check that they have attended. You would have to have an agreement with the relevant organisation that confirmation of attendance would be ok. Apparently you are not supposed to count attendance to see probation officer as a RAR session. But at the same time probation staff get slated if the service user hasn't been "seen". Time was when "relationship " played a part in the process, when a service user would have some continuity, seeing one officer for a while, establishing a rapport and from there begin to acquire the confidence to take on the world differently. Time was when end to end work was the buzzword. I am not saying there is only one way to skin a cat. Having options and flexibility is good. But you can signpost till you are blue in the face, you still have to be sure that the organisation you signpost to is not just another signposting organisation. Who will actually do the actual work with people when in austerity Britain all services have been pared down to the bare bones?

    1. The other thing to take into account is that the RARs are "up to", which theoretically means there is no obligation to complete all or any of the RAR sessions. Are the sentencers aware of how wushu washy, unspecific and badly written this law is? Glenys does not appear to have pointed this out in her speech.

  3. Glenys, with the exception of a handful of positive examples, says nothing.

  4. Not sure why this is being reported today, but I think it should be read.


    1. With those percentages of growth in people on licence, how can the MOJ justify staffing cuts?

  5. Harry Fletcher's Voice4Victims mentioned in this interesting blog post:

  6. Guardian: Prison violence epidemic partly due to staff cuts, MoJ admits.

    1. The Ministry of Justice has explicitly acknowledged that staff cuts are a factor in the rising tide of violence in prisons in England and Wales.

      The latest figures show that self-inflicted deaths inside jails rose 13% to a record 107 in the 12 months to September, and assaults behind bars increased by more than 34% to 23,775 – about 65 per day – in the 12 months to the end of June 2016. Incidents of self-harm, another key indicator of prison safety, rose by 26% to 36,400 reported incidents in the year to June.

      The MoJ figures show an increasingly volatile situation in women’s prisons, with the number of self-inflicted deaths doubling from four to eight in the past 12 months and assaults rising by 25% in a year.

      “The rise in assaults since 2012 has coincided with major changes to the regime, operating arrangements and culture in public sector prisons,” says an MoJ commentary on the prison safety figures published on Thursday. “For example, restructuring of the prison estate, including staff reductions, which have reduced overall running costs, and an increase in gang culture and illicit psychoactive drugs in prisons.

      “As well as the dangers to both physical and mental health, trading in these illicit drugs can lead to debt, violence and intimidation.”

      The justice secretary, Elizabeth Truss, said the figures demonstrated the gravity of the problem of violence and self-harm in prisons. “The consequences are devastating and go far beyond the confines of the prison walls, spilling out into our streets and communities,” she said.

      “Prison reform is my top priority. I am committed to making prisons places of safety and reform, where our dedicated officers are given the support they need to help offenders turn their lives around. That is why I have invested an initial £14m at 10 of our most challenging prisons, and shortly I will be publishing a white paper outlining the much-needed reform across the prison estate to 2020 and beyond.”

      Mark Day, of the Prison Reform Trust, said the figures revealed “a hidden emergency unfolding in our prison system”. He said the rise in prison violence over the last three years could not be allowed to become the new normal.

      “The government’s forthcoming prison safety and reform plan must get to grips with a dangerously deteriorating situation. The lives of people who live and work in prison depend on it,” he said.

      Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Cutting staff and prison budgets while allowing the number of people behind bars to grow unchecked has created a toxic mix of violence, death and human misery … Today’s figures show that we cannot wait for legislation – bold and radical action is needed now to stop the death toll rising further.”