Friday, 3 February 2017

Death of the PSR

From the latest Sentencing Council Guidlines:-

Pre-sentence reports 

In many cases, a pre-sentence report will be pivotal in helping the court decide whether to impose a community order and, if so, whether particular requirements or combinations of requirements are suitable for an individual offender. Whenever the court reaches the provisional view that a community order may be appropriate, it should request a pre-sentence report (whether written or verbal) unless the court is of the opinion that a report is unnecessary in all the circumstances of the case. It may be helpful to indicate to the National Probation Service the court’s preliminary opinion as to which of the three sentencing ranges is relevant and the purpose(s) of sentencing that the package of requirements is expected to fulfil. Ideally a pre-sentence report should be completed on the same day to avoid adjourning the case. If an adjournment cannot be avoided, the information should be provided to the National Probation Service in written form and a copy retained on the court file for the benefit of the sentencing court. However, the court must make clear to the offender that all sentencing options remain open including, in appropriate cases, committal for sentence to the Crown Court.

"Ideally a pre-sentence report should be completed on the same day to avoid adjourning the case."

Does no one understand what a fundamentally important role the PSR should have in effective probation work? Did thousands of probation officers waste their bloody time over the last 30/40years, sweating over what we felt was a core aspect of the job, namely providing the court with an in-depth explanation for an offender's behaviour so that the court could sentence wisely? 

As soon as we got saddled with OASys, many of us realised the PSR was condemned to a slow death, and so it has proved - a vitally important piece of work, now sidelined and seen as merely a bureaucratic hindrance to the smooth running of our court system and routinely prepared by PSO's. Not a murmur of discontent from the judiciary, Magistrates Association, Law Society, Bar Council or Probation Institute - an utter disgrace!    


  1. As you once titled a blog not so long ago, "What's a PSR Grandad?". Its that age-old toxic recipe of pure arrogance & ignorance mixed with petulance & impatience, sprinkled with smug self-righteousness and served regardless.

    1. Crikey yes, so I did!

      Saturday, 7 November 2015 'What's a PSR Grandad?'

      Heard NPS want most reports to be done as oral reports on the day by PSO's including high risk & DV ???

      90% same day reports with PO's only writing in exceptional cases, presumably assessments of dangerousness? No room for police or social services checks on DV cases. No proper treatment needs assessments for sex offenders. No properly considered assessments for drug or alcohol treatment. No chance of researching and organising mental health treatment requirements. I could go on and on and on and on. NAPO and Unison must campaign on this. Magistrates and Judges must be canvassed and encouraged to speak out. This will make a mockery of the NPS. Use the managements apparent biggest fear, reputational damage.

      PO's being taken out of magistrates court to be replaced again with PSO's.

      As observed many times on this forum, the Courts were Probation's marketplace; they were where we shone brightest, where we earned respect amongst sentencers, legal practitioners & our clients, where our workload was generated. Court Duty Officers were our eyes & ears, our intelligence gatherers & our shop front. When piss-poor myopic management targetted & destroyed our presence in the Courts we lost control of our own destiny.

      E3, CRC, NPS, NOMS, TOM, Dick & Harry... its all gone to ratshit on the whims of ideological fantasists with alphabetti-spaghetti and greedy arseholes with power. Not one politician seems to be able to speak without lying, we have the current government cosy with despotic & murderous regimes (Egypt, Saudi, China) & desperate to bomb somewhere and a criminal justice system that, already frail from Labour's interfering hand, has been poisoned by its former guardian ad litem, aka C S Grayling, who's recently been rewarded for his treachery. A bit like naming Harold Shipman as "GP of the Century".

      (If I had a 'star letter of the week' feature, I think this would win - Ed)

  2. Probation Officer3 February 2017 at 07:52

    There will be no objection from our sith masters in the National Probation Service either. The current strategy of short reports for the majority of cases (the target is for 90% short reports I think) means Probation did this to itself. Fits in nicely with the E3 plan to reduce probation to nothing.

  3. I've been knocking around since the days of the SER. When I first came across these, I was impressed, and also bemused. These long, detailed documents were of terrific value to probation staff who went on to supervise the client, but rarely read by the magistrates, who would go straight to the last paragraph. So the rationale for producing something shorter and less detailed prior to sentencing makes sense IF...
    IF the same time and attention is given to analysis and research after sentence, a whole working day was the time allowance as I recall. The system whereby this was required by the court prior to sentencing safeguarded the allocation of the necessary resources and time.

    1. "These long, detailed documents were of terrific value to probation staff who went on to supervise the client, but rarely read by the magistrates, who would go straight to the last paragraph."

      Certainly more than an element of truth in this, but in many, many cases it proved to make the difference between custody and community penalty and highlight the need for assessment by psychology or psychiatric services.

    2. Part of the purpose of probation is to influence sentencing, so leaving it until afterwards defeats the purpose.

  4. This government does not want skilled staff it wants cheap robots that can tick boxes.

  5. To avoid adjournment, a PSR should ideally be done on the same day. Firstly, amazing how what is ideal changes, irrespective of evidence, secondly, when it comes to courts losing time, the judiciary have a monopoly.

    This same day ideal is on a par with that other fallacy of £46-pounds-in-your-pocket.

    The Sentencing Council is stuffed with sinecurists and other time servers, who follow the ideology of the day rather than what constitutes good practice. If the PSR hadn't been so degraded over the years, we may, for example, have fewer mentally-ill languishing and deteriorating in overcrowded prison.

  6. We lost this fight years ago. The fallacy that you need a full oasys to do a full report came up against the last,now almost 7, years of austerity.

    First you break the link between a full assessment and a PSR. So "Simple cases" can be done on the day.

    Then you decide that you can get partly trained PSO's (Sorry all you PSO's out there but there IS a difference between a PO and a PSO and that difference is AUTONOMY and the trust of the Organisation)to do those "simple PSR's"

    Then you gradually erode what is not a "SIMPLE" PSR shoehorning more and more complex cases into that category.

    Then you realise that the quality is dropping but rather than address this decide that it is all about SPEED of delivery. Therefore you start setting "Stretch" on the day targets.

    Then you jump that target from 50% to 75% to 90% to "The expectation is that ALL will be delivered on the day"

    Then you recognise that the whole process adds nothing to sentencing because the reports are done on a conveyor belt.

    This will only be reversed now when a mistake is made of such magnitude that somebody who is either
    1 Important (Monckton for example)
    2 Media catnip (So someone young and blonde and pretty, that usually does it)

    Is killed by some psychopath in court for a drink drive offence that a cursory examination of the records would have showed that there were bigger problems. Even then if it can be pinned on the poor sap who wrote the report then it will be business as usual.

    We are fucked, get used to it.

  7. Don`t ever expect that sycophantic organisation known as the Magistrates Association to say or do anything that bad mouths the government of the day.....they always have to have their chairman`s CBE to be kept available every few years

  8. Resources are very tight. Fact. Because of lamentable government policies, of which austerity is the headline Fuckup, and moral cowardice in its approach to CJS just adding to the grief. Nonetheless, resources are tight. So right now, if I was trying to make this mess work, I would be, in reality, moving resources from PSRs than sentencers don't read, to time spent forging good supervisory relationships with clients.

    1. Resources are tight - and how that mantra has stuck. We also make political decisions how to spend resources. We find 40 billion for Trident and 6 billion to give the parliament a facelift and we always find resources to fight wars in faraway places.

  9. I am a court probation officer. For those of my colleagues who do not work in the court setting, just to advise it is horrendous and a disaster waiting to happen. Complex mental health and dv reports done in the space of 20 minutes if you are lucky! This is a shameful indictment of government directives and a lack of backbone by the judiciary to accept this watered down service not to mention potentially dangerous state of affairs that has been created. Anyone remember reflective practice? What refuse bin has that been consigned to? Henry Ford would be proud of the mass produced, conveyor built system of dealing with peoples lives that currently exists in the courts. I am truly ashamed to be a part of this despicable system. I feel contaminated like I have sold myself for 30 pieces of silver which I know I have done. I want out but I have children to feed and a mortgage to pay.

    1. I am sadly in the same boat as you! As a PO, my services are stretched between writing reports between a magistrate, crown and remanded cases via video link. Serious cases of violence, sexual predators and these new 'revenge porn' cases being expected 'on the day' - although stilll expected to have dv call outs, ssd checks and mental health checks. The stress is through the roof and I'm not sure how long this can continue. To me, it is not safe sentencing and has just become a conyeyor belt. There is no longer any 'good practice' - it's expedited practice, and it's wrong and stands against everything I was taught when a TPO......

  10. Right now, 18:01 I would get rid of the lot of you and build accommodation. Hierarchy of Needs.

  11. Once not that long ago the end to end offender management idea placed value on the PO being involved with the SU right from the start of entry of SU into CJS and though the order to the exit of the SU. Sometimes the PO would follow the SU through the process 2 or 3 times before the SU eventually found his /her feet in a non offending lifestyle. As I perceived it at the time this approach did involve the SU in the promise he was making to the court to avoid offending. Also the SU would be more closely involved in deciding how he would do that. From the PO's point of view there was a real commitment to supporting bathe SU to succeed. The conversations between the SU and the PO in supervision were real because they had entered into a contract together at the court stage. The mags/judges would be more inclined to follow proposals as they were able to see that contract in front of their eyes in court. They perceived this was genuine and it made them trust us more. They were more patient with us and with the SU when there was re-offending or a breach. They understood better that for someone to stop offending is a process requiring a huge effort and focus on the part of the SU as well as on the part of those who try to support the SU to make those changes. I used to encourage all involved at PSR stage to see it as a creation of a contract between SU, supervising PO and court, one where all parties are accountable. And for a brief season it worked for me and for my SUs. I believe that as things are now the SU would struggle to see the point of their all too brief PSR assessments, the PSR authors become less able to make good proposals as many h now have no experience of supervising a SU through an order and the supervising staff as mentioned by others here struggle to establish a useful starting point in their supervision in terms of working relationship. The mags and judges must feel every day that the current system is too full of holes, as many SU appear in their courts at an ever faster pace with no real explanation of the work that has been done with them so far.

  12. Oral reports, Cas documents and RSRs not worth the paper they are written on. Yet another myth of TR ignored by unions. NPS, though no fault of their own, are not assessing risk and are not providing risk management plsns, CRCs shot in front, back, head, toe and sides

    1. By virtue of the short form PSRs, and no other arrangement for full assessment and analysis, CRC not given the information they need, and by virtue of absolute crap contracting and commissioning, not delivering what the shoddy court reports promise. Downward spiral, and its leading to ire between previous colleagues/comrades across the CRC-NPS divide, when we should be united in laying the blame squarely at the door of the Minister, and his successor(s)

  13. That is the nub of it: the PSRs are written in haste, which might be excusable if the follow up supervision and interventions were invested in and effectively delivered. Internet sex offenders now not to go on to group programme. In my area there is a waiting list for the programme of over a year, at which point the motivation and engagement is waning. Havent had time to check out the new one-to-one intervention for the internet (specifically Thornton low risk) men, but I get a whole say's training on that shortly, so that's all sorted (not). Cheapskate justice, and lamentable cuts, dictated by a department that doesn't know its private parts from its arm joints

    1. There is NO rational rhyme, reason or justification for a PSR to be written in haste; its just the whimsical folly of ignorant toadies pandering to the political operational demands of ... NOMS.

      Aye, dear reader, 'tis the well-rewarded wormtongues within Noms who be behind all of probation's woes, whispering poisonous words into the ears of ministers and their aides. It never suited Noms to be burdened with the irritating troublesome "low risk" cases, but they always wanted to involve themselves with the "high risk" stuff. Notice how the more complex cases in custody always became the 'property' of prison psychology? Notice how many Noms staff woukd be involved with parole hearings? How quickly Noms wanted prison staff to be running OMUs within prisons, to be hands-on with OASys rather than on the wings, but how keen they were for other agencies to organise the more 'mundane' release plans, accommodation, etc.

      This misguided power-hungry ambition has contributed to fewer prison staff on the wings, an increase in less experienced staff in prisons, the demise of probation and the introduction of the calamitous TR programme.

      The remnants of probation remaining in public hands will now be totally absorbed by the Noms structure but I predict the new organisation will be given a new name - one which reflects the shift from "executive agency" to "government department", ensuring Spurr and his cronies achieve full Whitehall status and all of the benefits under a designated Minister. By the time he retires Spurr will have a gold plated platinum lined pension, a knighthood & as many non-executive positions as you can shake a riot baton at. THAT, dear reader, is the end-game.

  14. Magistrates have no sway over what happens at higher policy level as regards probation reports. MA unable and National Bench Chairmans Forum too busy with their own aggrandisement (IMHO) to make much fuss about this - though magistrates would probably be the last to know if they did.

    It may be odd to say it but magistrates now have relative less input into sentencing so probably find longer probation reports less valuable. Sentencing guidelines make the direction of travel fairly obvious. On the community order/custody cusp there will be valuable input from probation and defence.
    Otherwise, magistrates have little idea what RAR entails and no say over what it should entail, so why be particularly interested in the characteristics of the defendant that it may address? The questions for which answers are needed have become quite straightforward:
    Will RAR be useful: yes/no
    What activity (eg drugs) will help?
    Can the defendant do unpaid work or curfew? It is surprising how often there is no recommended punitive element that there must be in a sentence. Sentencers are often left scrabbling around for something to put in to make the sentence even vaguely match the seriousness of the offence.
    I should say I think this is a structural failure, not of the excellent POs and PSOs found in court.

  15. When did the PSR stop being a social inquiry report? An attempt to understand the reasons behind the commission of the offence, and be able to advise the courts accordingly?
    Completing a PSR on the same day as the court date leaves nothing much to say only the stuff already contained in the CPS documents and antecedents records.
    To my small little mind that can only severely disadvantage the first time offender and the mentally ill.
    As for all sentencing options left open? Well how can a recommendation for HDC be made without a home visit being carried out? And will report authors really be prepared to suggest a non custodial sentence on such limited information, if the risk of being questioned (and maybe being held responsible) for your recommendation later on if an SFO should happen?
    Do it properly or don't do it at all.

    As an aside, tagging and fraud appears to have raised its ugly head again.