Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Probation by Telephone - The Verdict

With the Probation Review and matters of general prison reform now almost certainly side-lined by the impending general election, the latest damning inspection report into the on-going TR omnishambles is not likely to get much attention.    


This is our first inspection of adult probation work undertaken by a CRC owned by Working Links, and our first in Wales after the implementation of the UK government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme. We inspected work done in Gwent by the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) and the Wales division of the National Probation Service (NPS). 

The published performance figures for probation services have their limitations. Latest figures suggest that the NPS Wales is performing below average, but in fact we found strong leadership, motivated staff, readily manageable workloads and some excellent NPS work in Gwent. The big issue for NPS Wales is that the quality of work varies, place by place, yet if all offices could deliver the high quality of work done by the NPS in Newport, then more individuals would be helped more effectively, to change their lives for the better.

We found a more troubling picture at the CRC. More than two years after Transforming Rehabilitation, the operating model is still changing, and staff are anxious and no doubt long for stability. 

Seasoned Transforming Rehabilitation observers have long feared that CRCs would cherry pick, investing little in those most likely to reoffend, but instead the Working Links approach is to scale supervision, with the most intensive supervision for the most challenging individuals, and to work in local community hubs that also provide a range of services to the community at large. We were impressed with the community hub, in practice. For the one in four people assessed as low risk, however, their supervision while in the community is scaled back to a telephone call every six weeks, albeit one in three of these should also have contact with unpaid work supervisors or other interventions staff, assuming those arrangements work as intended. 

In our view, this means too many people get too little attention. Without meaningful contact, individuals are most unlikely to develop a will to change. What is more, as individuals’ circumstances change, so can the risk of harm they present to the public. Staff are unsure about the model, with their views no doubt influenced to an extent by the downsizing exercise underway. Implementation is taking a long time, and some aspects of the model are not working as they should. Staff morale is low, and sickness absence alarmingly high, yet (as I have come to expect) we found committed responsible officers working hard to support service users. 

The CRC’s published performance figures show it performing relatively well. What gets measured gets done, of course, but sometimes at a cost to other work that should be done, as we found here. With not enough service user plans actually followed through, and with staff numbers reducing substantially, it is hard to avoid concluding that despite good intentions, simple affordability considerations and an overpowering need to balance the books is driving priorities in this CRC.

Dame Glenys Stacey 
HM Chief Inspector of Probation 
April 2017


Frances Crook of the Howard League is characteristically forthright in their press release:-

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation’s report on adult probation services in Gwent, published today (Wednesday 19 April).

The report states that the publicly-run National Probation Service (NPS), responsible for supervising people deemed to present a high risk of reoffending, was performing well overall. However, the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), owned by Working Links, and tasked with managing medium- and low-risk cases, was criticised by inspectors.

The inspection team said that the CRC’s work was driven by “an overpowering need to balance the books”, with supervision of some people scaled back to just a phone call every six weeks.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: 
“The break-up of the public probation service, with a large part of it handed to 21 private companies, was supposed to turn lives around, reduce reoffending and make us all safer. Today’s report, however, indicates that this has failed in Gwent, increasing the risk to the public and letting down people who are trying to change their lives. A general election is only seven weeks away, and one of the first challenges for a new government will be to sort out this mess.It is time to end the dangerous experiment of ‘community rehabilitation companies’ and return to the single, successful, probation service that we used to have.”


  1. Dame Glenys Stacey hits the nail squarely on the head when she concludes that

    'The CRC’s published performance figures show it performing relatively well. What gets measured gets done, of course, but sometimes at a cost to other work that should be done, as we found here. With not enough service user plans actually followed through, and with staff numbers reducing substantially, it is hard to avoid concluding that despite good intentions, simple affordability considerations and an overpowering need to balance the books is driving priorities in this CRC.'

    Target led performance to the extreme with little consideration of the actual impact of not doing all the things we know as probation professionals need to be done but clearly aren't being done because they aren't being measured. This organisation is hardly a 'probation service'. It is designed for one purpose and one purpose only i.e. to meet cash linked targets and be damned with anything else that actually needs to be done. Take away the contract from these cowboys and establish proper standards that actually relate to what probation is about. Probation has now lost most of its credibility as a professional service (including those in the NPS who look down on others and refer to them as 'CRC scum' in my area) and when this kind of organisation gets hold of it staff should immediately stop using probation in their titles in protest as to do so is a misnomer and besmirches the name of the profession.
    As Frances Crook said writing in the New Statesman in November 2016
    'the part-privatisation of the probation system in England and Wales to contractors such as Sodexo, which started in 2014, was accomplished with all the success that the phrase “government outsourcing” has come to imply. The £3.7bn contracts to oversee 200,000 medium- and low-risk offenders are almost all loss-making, as the providers complained to the Financial Times on 12 October. “If you are 15 to 30 per cent down on business, that will mean having to reduce staff and that will have a knock-on effect on our ability to reduce reoffending,” one manager told the newspaper. “To say it’s a cock-up is an understatement.”'

  2. The NPS seem to have become very arrogant, they've lost their soul, the time will come when they too will get privatised and will feel the full blow. How very sad for those that were cruelly shafted and now to be called "scum" is beyond words its not like we don't have to put up with enough fucking shit from our paymaster and now this.

  3. Well in this particular little corner of the Wonky Links empire, even what is measured isn't getting done, because of the shoddy IT system and lack of staff to do anything!

    1. Same goes for interswereve, and things will only get worse when eventually every staff member leaves and no one will apply to work for them to do their dirty work. Backside how are these companies being allowed to continue.

  4. It still has me shaking my head in disbelief that a group of 'intelligent' people thought that splitting asunder the combined expertise and resources of the Probation Service could somehow result in anything other than a mess. I said it several years ago and repeat now that it showed a fundamental misunderstanding about the work of the Probation Service. A unified Probation Service would have met the challenges that the government sought with greater success albeit the service would still have been diminished in many respects. The Howard League are right to call for reunification of the service. Don't be mislead by voices which would have you believe that this is a task akin to putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, it isn't.

  5. The motivation for T.R was for the government to save money, on salaries, buildings, and most importantly staff pensions, not to mention reward privateers with the profits of crime. They have effectively robbed the pensions of those life career staff who were shafted into CRCs and those trapped in NPS. They hope people will die before they are allowed to retire. They will then pocket all of our life contributions. Did someone say corrupt Barton et all ...

  6. It is not too late to call for re-unification! We should be demanding that NAPO and the MOJ do a feasability study into re-unification of the service. In some areas it may be quite straightforward to move the remaining CRC staff back in to NPS offices ( they may even continue to share the same office or NPS could have space to take them in ) realistically I believe this could still happen. Better to do it now than wait for the situation to get worse. NPS staff may also welcome having a more mixed caseload and not working only with highest risk. No doubt someone from LT's think tank will come up with it as a brilliant idea and take all the credit when low and behold re-unification actually works!

    1. I don't even think that we need a feasibility study, they didn't do one when they split us. JUST DO IT before communities and staff alike have to suffer any further.

    2. I agree they split us easy enough.

  7. It is important to remember that this was NOT a two way split. It was a THREE way split. One third went to NPS, one to CRCs and the final third, a significant number of them senior and middle management, went off into the sunset. It is the loss of this final third that resulted in this particular chicken having it's head cut off. It continues to run around not yet knowing that it is already dead.

    1. Most of that final third were completely useless fucktards.

      Just a shame that they were still way more useful than the fucktard senior management we have been forced to keep.

  8. "For the one in four people assessed as low risk, however, their supervision while in the community is scaled back to a telephone call every six weeks"

    At risk of sounding like the fascist zealot Phillip Davis MP - please vote him out on June 8 - "ONE 'phone call every SIX weeks? And that represents Grayling's ideological transformation of rehabilitation in the community?"

    1. RingRing, RingRing, RingRing...

      LowRiskCase (LRC): Hullo?
      CRC: Hello, its the Community Hub here, my name is Chloe & this is your six weekly supervision call.
      LRC: Who?
      CRC: The CRC Community Hub. I'm Chloe, your case manager for today.
      LRC: But it was Clare last time.
      CRC: And today its me.
      LRC: I want to talk to Clare. She said she'd be ringing me back. Is she there? Why isn't she calling me? Anyway I'm on a bus so I don't want to talk to you now.
      CRC: Please don't be aggressive or I'll have to terminate the call and breach you.
      LRC: What!? I don't need this shit. Put Clare on.
      CRC: Okay, so in this situation I need to tell you the call has been recorded, I'm ending the call because you have breached your Order by being obstructive & using abusive language and a letter will follow explaining what happens next.

      Etc, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseaum every six weeks.

    2. Take in account that this is not always done by the person supervising the case by an admin bod in a call centre.

  9. saw a guy today - not been seen since Oct and i picked him up because he was transferred to me and in an effort to re-engage, phoned up sick for the first offered apt and attended today after phoning at 10am to say he still wasnt well but would drag himself in. Needless to say he turned up and sounded ok - but omg he stunk of alcohol and was minging. I'd never have picked this up in a phonecall - have put him back on 2 weekly reporting to monitor him.

    Would never have picked this problem up on the phone, also important to note, conversations in person always flow differently to phone ones and you get much more info face to face in order to risk assess.