I was particularly struck by the following paragraph from the HMI thematic report into RARs:-
"In Huddersfield the CRC had inherited a practice from the former Probation Trust where a unique arrangement with the local courts anticipated a similar arrangement to the RAR, where accredited programmes were ordered using a generic programme requirement and the Trust determined which programme would be delivered following a post-sentence assessment. There was now no clear plan or policy about whether accredited programmes were delivered under a RAR or accredited programme requirement. As a result, the CRC had been delivering accredited programmes using RARs, but their intention was to make sure as many as possible were delivered through accredited programme requirements in order to maximise income."
The mention of practice in Huddersfield jogged my memory and sent me rushing to the archives and to a document kindly sent to me by a reader some time ago. When the History of the Great TR Omnishambles comes to be written, lets never forget the part played by one Mark Siddall of West Yorkshire Probation Service who had a 'good idea'.
No doubt in anticipated furtherance of his own career as anything else, and under the enthusiastic leadership of Sue Hall, he pushed what he thought was a brilliant wheeze and RARs were born, with the aspiration of WYPS earning a bob or two by franchising the idea out to other service's.
Here he is in rather self-congratulatory mode, spelling it out to staff and sentencers, and in the process, rather neatly laying one of the key foundation stones for probation's demise under TR. Of course, it was an absolute gift to the politicians who beat a path to Yorkshire, and the MoJ, who pounced on it immediately, and the rest is history, as they say:-
All Change: an innovative approach to sentencing
1 January 2012 marks a significant date for criminal justice in West Yorkshire. It represents the start of an innovative approach to sentencing and the delivery of sentences that is unique to the area. Following agreement from senior Judges and with the Courts Service, the new approach will deliver reduced reoffending, more successful completions of court sentences, more same-day reports, fewer adjournments and fewer breaches. The benefits are compelling.
How will it work?
Where courts are considering a Community Order as the most appropriate sentence (and where standalone unpaid work or curfew is not under consideration), sentencers will impose a Community Order with an Activity Requirement at one of three levels of intensity. The level of intensity will be set by the court, and will no doubt relate to the level of offence seriousness and punishment required.
This generic Activity Requirement replaces the current framework of 12 individual requirements that can be included as part of a Community Order. It is entirely aligned with research evidence that confirms that the closer the fit between the delivery of a sentence and an individual's specific circumstances, the better the outcome. Ingredients in the new Activity Requirement will include all the existing options West Yorkshire Probation currently delivers as accredited programmes and specified activities, plus new activities as they are developed in response to changing needs.
Post sentence, Probation staff will conduct a detailed assessment of offending-related factors and will determine the most effective means of addressing these, up to the maximum intensity level specified by the court, and will select the particular activities that most closely fit that individual's offending behaviour. In essence, it is no different from Probation Orders imposed for most of the last hundred years, where the court determined the length of the order and the Probation Officer decided how best to supervise the offender.
Referring to the table, where a court imposes an Activity Requirement of medium intensity, for example, the Probation practitioner will conduct a thorough individual assessment to determine how best to fill the 30 days of activity, according to the specific issues that need to be addressed by the particular offender.
The Activity Requirement, which will be imposed under section 201 (1) (a) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, ensures a flexible response to changes in circumstances. For example, where it becomes evident some days or weeks after sentence that a domestic abuse intervention is more appropriate than one to address anger management, Probation staff can make the necessary arrangements swiftly without the need to return to court. The new framework provides a much better vehicle to respond to the complex and fast-changing nature of some offenders' circumstances.
The main issue for a court that is considering imposing a community order will be to determine which of the three intensity levels is most appropriate, therefore the majority of reports can be provided on the same day and adjournments for reports will be substantially reduced.
Courts will still be able to impose separate Drug Rehabilitation Requirements or Alcohol Treatment Requirements if they think that these are appropriate. There will also be separate arrangements for Intensive Community Order cases and reports for such cases will continue to be in the Standard Delivery Report format.
We are working closely with the Courts Service to prepare briefing materials for sentencers. The new framework will be simpler than previous arrangements and will remove those factors that can distort the pre-sentence assessment process e.g. defendants concealing significant information pre-sentence, or, at the other extreme, defendants making unrealistic commitments that they are unable or unwilling to to meet once the sentence has been decided.
People respond differently to change, and these changes may evoke varied responses. But in today's climate, remaining exactly as we are is not a viable option. So, where West Yorkshire Probation can make improvements, we will. It is important to keep our eyes on our ultimate ambition: reduced reoffending, fewer victims, more completed sentences, more same-day reports, fewer adjournments and fewer breaches. In short, greater effectiveness and greater efficiency.
Mark Siddall, Director of Operations
I've written about this before and it was discussed at some length:-