Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Probation's Future - More Inspection

Yesterday Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, gave a keynote speech to the Criminal Justice Management Conference at the QEII Centre, London. In her own inimitable way, she perfectly outined what a total mess Chris Grayling made of the former gold standard probation service, without actually saying so, of course:- 

Can Probation Services Deliver What We All Want and Expect? 

Good afternoon. 

I’m here to talk to you about probation services. Well over a quarter of a million people are supervised by youth offending and probation services each year. Many under probation supervision are not receiving the quality of services that they should, and yet we know that good probation services can change their lives and life chances. 

Good youth offending and probation services also make a big difference to society as a whole. If all these services were delivered well, then the prison population would reduce, there would be fewer people sofa surfing or sleeping or begging on the streets, and fewer confused and lonely children and young people. Men, women and children currently afraid of assault could lead happier and safer lives, and yes, there would be less reoffending. These things really do matter – to those under probation supervision, to all of us working in criminal justice, and to society as a whole. 

But probation services are not being delivered consistently to the standard we expect. The National Probation Service, responsible for those assessed as high risk, it is delivering to an acceptable standard overall, although there are inconsistencies in the quality of work across the country, and some anomalies as well. 

The majority of individuals, however, are categorized as medium or low risk, and although there are exceptions, the Community Rehabilitation Companies responsible for their supervision are not generally producing good quality work, not at all. Probation reform has not delivered the benefits that Transforming Rehabilitation promised, so far. 

We rarely see the innovations expected to come with freeing up the market, and instead proposed new models, new ways of delivering probation services on the ground and supporting them with better IT systems have largely stalled. The voluntary and charitable sectors are much less engaged then government envisaged. Promised improvements in Through the Gate resettlement – mentors, real help with accommodation, education, training and employment for short sentence prisoners - have mostly not been delivered in any meaningful way. And too often, for those under probation supervision we find too little is done by CRCs. On inspection, we often find nowhere near enough purposeful activity or targeted intervention or even plain, personal contact. 

Why is this? Staff morale, workloads, training and line management are highly variable and need to improve if probation is to improve. Staff are change weary and more than that, too many are too overburdened with work. Their employing companies are financially stretched, with some unable to balance the books, as unexpected changes in the type of cases coming their way have resulted in lower payments than anticipated. 

The government must face this squarely, knowing that CRC contracts are currently set to run until late 2021. It must consider its options, in order for there to be any prospect of consistently good probation services nationwide. 

Of course, these companies strive to meet performance targets set by contract – just as they should. That is the nature of contracts. Many achieve well against some of those targets, but often enough this is at a cost to the quality of work and the more enduring expectations we all have of probation services. To give one example, CRCs commonly produce timely sentence plans, and so meet contract expectations, but those plans may not be good plans, comprehensive plans, based on a comprehensive assessment. What is more, we find too often that despite sometimes heroic efforts by staff, plans are not followed through into action, into real work that can make a material and positive difference. 

You would think at first sight that changes to the contract specification would do the trick. But the work that probation services can do locally, with local partners, to deal with complex, sometimes longstanding social problems and some of the most troubled and troubling people in society, so as to make a difference to those individuals’ life chances, this is very difficult to exemplify and then ensure, in a set of performance targets or measures. 

This measurement problem is not unique to probation. Other caring professions may be equally difficult to measure, to quantify in this way, and for these type of services, independent inspection has a particular role to play. 

For such services – probation services delivered in the community or perhaps services caring for the elderly in a care home – nothing beats stepping over the threshold, and looking with an experienced, wise eye at what is going on. In that way, independent inspectors can report objectively and faithfully how things are. They can hold up a mirror and reflect the simple, unadorned picture they see. That is what we do. But that alone does not drive improvement where it is needed, necessarily. Yes, we make recommendations and expect them to be followed, but that is not enough. 

For probation services to improve where needed, a number of other things must happen. Firstly, government must – and it has started to do this – it must address the immediate funding issues, and do so carefully and wisely so as not to fall foul of contract law, so as not to create perverse incentives, and instead to secure more professional staff and specialist intervention services where needed. 

Government must also make a plan, have a strategy for how probation services are to be delivered over the next decade. CRC contract end dates are not so far off. 

And meanwhile it must be as clear as possible about what it expects of probation services, and rebalance the oversight model, the way probation services are overseen, so as to focus squarely on those expectations. 

It seems obvious to me that government should expect consistently good quality probation services, so that the public are sufficiently protected, individuals serve their community sentences productively and reoffending is reduced. For me, the problem arises underneath these enduring expectations of probation, as with Transforming Rehabilitation, probation providers were liberated from what were rather processy national standards so as to enable them to innovate. As a consequence, and without good and commonly accepted national standards there is some confusion about what good looks like – what represents good probation services, and what is expected of probation services, actually. It is time to clarify that, and to fill that gap. 

With government’s backing, we at HMI Probation are developing underpinning standards for probation services. They are not processy. Instead they are evidence based and take the best from international standards. We are developing these standards in a consensual way, working with the NPS and CRCs in particular – as they need to accept and adopt these standards with us, in order to make a difference. 

We will inspect against these standards in due course. More than that, we will use them to describe what ‘good’ looks like, to provide some stakes in the ground, ways in which probation providers themselves can see where their services meet expected standards and where they need to improve. So for example, we can be clear what good Unpaid Work looks like, and what outstanding Unpaid Work looks like – and what is plainly inadequate. 

And as we inspect we will rate NPS divisions and CRCs on a four point scale à la Ofsted: Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, Inadequate. We will do this because research shows that ratings drive improvement in immature or poorly performing markets. In other words, we think it will drive improvement where it is needed, and recognise and applaud good work when we see it as well. 

To rate probation providers fairly, we must of course publish our standards and be clear how we will apply them, and of course we will do that, starting with a consultation in November. But we must also be sure of our judgements of probation providers and be sure they are fully reflective of a good evidence base in each inspection. 

We will increase our case sample sizes so as to give us an 80% confidence level in case inspection findings, and we will inspect whole CRCs and whole divisions of the NPS. We will routinely inspect not just the long established areas of probation work, but new areas as well: Through the Gate work for example. And because probation services are still volatile, we will inspect each NPS division and CRC annually, from the spring of next year. 

We think that this increased emphasis on independent inspection, and standards will begin to rebalance the way probation providers are overseen. It will make clear what is expected of probation providers, and I have no doubt that most if not all providers will want to attain good independent inspection ratings. 

Incidentally, I know that many of you here across the range of criminal justice and wider public services will have mixed views about inspection, about being inspected. Some find it extremely burdensome, and in some services there is an industry in mock inspection, and preparing for inspection. Of course we expect organisations to be ready for inspection, but we don’t encourage over-prep. 

We can often see, you know, the wet paint. Inspectors have generally been inspected themselves, in their former lives, and know the game. I do urge against any overly enthusiastic approach to preparing for inspection. As HMI Probation will be inspecting annually, it is perhaps best to be proportionate in preparing for it, and then take it as it comes – something I will be stressing with probation leaders. 

As I have said, I think our development of probation standards and more regular inspection are positive developments, capable of driving improvement where it is needed, but without further changes, the water remains muddy. CRCs could feel conflicted, with our inspection standards on the one hand and then contract requirements on the other. And many remain financially stretched. Two additional things need to happen, in my view, to give us all the best prospect of success. 

Firstly, CRCs must be put on a sufficiently stable financial footing. I have no doubt this is not straightforward: existing contracts and contract law must necessarily constrain matters, and there is a trick for government to pull off, if CRCs are to better funded and at the same incentivised to produce quality work. 

And that for me is the second requirement – incentivisation. CRCs could be incentivized to produce quality work, exemplified by higher order HMI Probation ratings. For those achieving higher order ratings, there should be some recognition of that, and reward as well. That may come for example in the way they are then overseen, perhaps by a reduction in the overall oversight burden. Rewards don’t always have to be monetary, as we all know. 

We are talking to government about these things. We are hopeful that government will find ways to incentivise and reward higher order HMI Probation ratings. And meanwhile we continue to inspect and report, while developing and agreeing new standards for probation that should over time mean that more people receive good quality probation services, to benefit them and society as a whole. 

I do hope you find the opportunity to read some of our reports, all available of course on our website. 

Thank you. Thank you very much for listening. 

Dame Glenys Stacey


  1. At long last someone is talking sense! I welcome an inspection at BGSWCRC. So far Gloucester alone inspected and the results made dismal reading yet Working Links tried to put a positive spin on it. Once the whole area is inspected, records scrutinised, offices and interview space looked at, offenders spoken to the situation will be clearer for all to see. They are likely to then get an 'inadequate' rating. The question is then what will be done to rectify the situation? I sincerely home Dame Glenys's team prioritise the most dysfunctional CRC's for prompt inspection before it is too late.

  2. "and there is a trick for government to pull off, if CRCs are to better funded"

    Yeah, make them use the taxpayer monies they've already been gifted for the provision of services & NOT syphoning it off to boost their own & their shareholders' bank accounts.

  3. Oh dear!! Great news on the one hand but do not give crcs any money or try incentives for cash. They will do what they have already demonstrated. Lies cheating target activity cry contract foul grab another series of bail out millions and slink off looking for the next tory cash grab bonanza contract. It is not money privateers need it is decency and vocational leadership. No privatization of public services.

  4. "For those achieving higher order ratings, there should be some recognition of that, and reward as well. That may come for example in the way they are then overseen, perhaps by a reduction in the overall oversight burden."

    Why? Just because a CRC has achieved what they're being given public money to do what they said they could do, AND what the Govt assessed that they could do, why should they be 'rewarded' with no ongoing oversight?

    Oversight of the use of public money is NOT a burden, its a necessary series of checks & balances to help prevent theft, fraud, dishonesty, etc. Sadly this is something the UK Gov't has ignored for many, many years now. But at a time when such oversight is most needed, HMIProbation seems to want to dilute it down beyond being efficacious.

    How the fuck did it become okay to take shitloads of public money by saying you can do something, utterly screw up the task, complain its not fair, get given shitloads more public money, then get told if you achieve something close to what you originally said you could do you'll get a 'reward' - like we'll turn a blind eye to what you do in the future... AND probably more money, or a knighthood, or something.

    Dame Glenys is effectively opening the door to allow the Inspectorate to validate the Govt's dodgy dealings with the CRC owners.

  5. Dame Glenys and her team have my respect, they tread their path skilfully and with integrity. I think the fragmentation of probation services and the privatisation of much of those services is simply a flawed way of doing effective Probation Services. Even if tax receipts were bulging and money were washing around to support carefully crafted targets, incentives and standards this probation way would fail simply because it's make up is not conducive to the fundamental aims of Probation work. DG cannot say that, the governing party don't believe or will not allow themselves to recognise that. This will rumble on with some partial improvements and crafted PR for a while yet but ultimately it will fall I believe.

  6. "CRCs could feel conflicted, with our inspection standards on the one hand and then contract requirements on the other. And many remain financially stretched."

    The CRC owners weren't very "conflicted" when they stated there would be opportunities for innovation & jobs were safe, before slashing 35% of staff. Nor were they "conflicted" when they denied long-serving experienced staff their EVR & pocketed the very generous & publicly funded Modernisation Fund monies intended for those staff - with the blessings of the MoJ, NOMS, Napo, etc. How financially stretched did that leave hundreds of staff? Did HMIProbation have anything to say then? Equally, did HMIProbation have any sharp words about NPS staff not being paid on time, or having their pensions screwed up?

    We're all onto a hiding-to-nothing be ause the CRCs have no moral compass, whilst the entire government/civil service system is rife with collusion, corruption & cronyism. Its simply far too cosy. Who wants to risk being ostracised from £150k a year, a gong, a title & a pension to keep both City & Country homes warm, not forgetting the holiday home in the sun?

    1. Exactly! 17.45. No moral compass whatsoever or weak and spineless. Either way the maingrade staff get shafted and the offenders don't get the support and supervision needed to keep them and public safe. Need to fine the CRC'managers or take them to court for failing in duty of care to staff, offenders and public. Absolutely sickening and left to small minority of vulnerable staff to try to voice their concerns.

  7. I'd have respect for Dame Glenys if she said:

    "Its a dog's dinner. Its bloody awful. Its simply not good enough. Now I want you Lidington, Gyimah & Spurr to sit there. You, Sodexo, Purple Whatevers and the rest of you - sit there. You've all screwed up. You've wasted hundreds of millions of pounds & you've ruined lives. For decades governments have waxed lyrical about justice, prison & probation. Its on my watch so now is the time you all get it sorted."

    Then she appoints an executive panel of experienced staff - probation, prisons, substance use, housing, mental health, youth, victim perspective, benefits, corporate finance & legal - to oversee the drawing up of new contracts incorporating professional standards & a cap on CRC profits to exclude asset stripping & bleeding of the public coffers.

    Or something like that...

  8. "We are developing these standards in a consensual way, working with the NPS and CRCs in particular – as they need to accept and adopt these standards with us, in order to make a difference."

    It's not enough to work with CRCs to develop new standards. HMIP should already know what constitutes "Outstanding", "Good", "Requires Improvement" and "Working Links" - sorry, "Inadequate"; they've been doing the job long enough. They should set the standards and make compliance a contractual requirement - otherwise you get the weasel words of the BGSW spokesperson who said, in essence, "yeah, but we're meeting our targets".

    Working with the CRCs only gives them an incentive to water down the inspection regime - or ignore the results as not contractually-binding.

    1. Working links is less than inadequate. It is absolutely without doubt failing to deliver what it should. There is a culture of secrecy from ACO level upwards, possibly even middle manager level upwards depending on the integrity of the middle manager. This is rife throughout Wales and the South West and NAPO, with all their good intentions appear powerless to do anything about it. If a good lawyer went in now and saw the appalling situation that the remaining staff are left in after the radical amputation of 40% of staff ( with another 10 percent leaving after so called end state or off sick ) they would sue the company for breachnof contract and failure in duty of care and industrial injury to staff rendered ill long term with stress. Every week the situation deteriorates further. The so called admin hub has almost half the staff required so breaches and enforcement letters not being done in time. It is chaos in many offices, each having a similar story. Officers with caseloads up to 80 struggling in remote offices that are not conducive to health or safety..offenders not being seen and 'going missing' as staff leave or are off sick.I welconw an inspection and hope I get a chance to speak to an inspector very soon and in privacy as I understand would be my right. Not with the gestapo listening in.

  9. Inspections are vital and Dame Glenys is clearly an honourable person. She mentions whole division/area inspections so look forward to the rest of Working Links CRCs being scrutinised. People post many whistleblower accounts on this blog as it is a safe, anonymous environment. The powers that Be would do well to pick up some of these if they want to make a difference. Fingers crossed that the inspectors reports will do just that, but with the Prime Minister bribing £1 billion worth of support in the Northern Ireland M.Ps, integrity is not this government's strong point. They cannot do the right thing and return justice services back to the State control, non profit safety we all deserve

    1. I was offered a 'bonus' after I made a complaint. No one said what it was for but it was clearly a bribe! I refused it and was moved to another office with very long commute! Desperate to get out of the CRC cesspit!

  10. "working with the NPS and CRCs in particular"

    I would jolly well hope so, seeing as you're HM Inspector of PROBATION.

    It would be pretty pointless working with, say ITV or UNESCO or Tesco or Shell... wouldn't it?

  11. They also inspect Family Court Officers so I take from this that the main concern is with 'probation'. If that word still exists? Failing that 'screw on wheels' might suffice, except we lost our wheels ages ago as home visits in CRC are rare given that CRC PO's have anything up to 90 cases to supervise from what I hear. PS. What has happened to getafix? We miss you!

  12. The optimism that CRCs would drive towards anything other than producing the contract targets at the lowest possible price or that the behemoth of the NPS would be driven by anything other than ticks on a spreadsheet is optimism and naivety surprising in one as sophisticated as Dame G.

  13. 9pm Weds 20/9/17 - available on iPlayer. An impressive & powerful R4 programme Costing The Earth. Gina Lopez, a radical activist who became Environment Minister for the Philippines. She spoke movingly of a time when she visited an area utterly devastated by the mining industry, where most flora & fauna had been wiped out, only to discover a whole new generation had simply grown up with that & knew no different. They weren't remotely concerned about what had been before.

    Without this blog - the words of the dismayed, distressed & the angry - the toxic CRC landscape would similarly be normalised for a new generation.

    It is NOT a case of "we are where we are" or "it is what it is". Don't let the CRCs, Spurr & the numerous temporary, fleeting ministers get away with poisoning your professional environment...

    Reclaim Probation as a public service - for you, for those you work with and for future generations.