Written evidence from Dr Lawrence Burke, Dr Matthew Millings and Mr Stuart Taylor (TRH0053)
As researchers we have been involved in two research projects considering the implementation of the Transformation Rehabilitation reforms. The first, operational between March 2015 and November 2016, was an ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) funded research project into the impact of the changes upon the probation workforce in one Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) case study area. This covered the period immediately before the creation of the CRC until immediately the transfer into new ownership. The second project is considering the implementation of the ‘Through the gate’ arrangements in a large CAT B resettlement prison. This project began in 2015 and is ongoing. Given the scale of the changes brought about by the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, it is difficult to present a measured assessment of the impact of the changes as it is unlikely to be some time before the efficacy of the new working models can be ascertained. It was clear though that the early stages of implementation have been marked by a number of significant challenges/concerns that are reflected in the scope of the Justice Committees terms of reference for the enquiry. Whilst it is acknowledged that these observations are only drawn from one site of delivery, reports by the NAO and HMI Prisons and Probation would suggest that they are not confined to the area observed. We have however limited our submission to those areas of the inquiry which we believe are most pertinent to our research findings.
3. How effective have Government measures been in addressing issues arising from the division of responsibility between NPS and CRCs in the delivery of probation services?
It has been clear that the organisational changes to the probation service have undoubtedly destabilised what was, even by the government’s own findings, an established and well-functioning organisation. In our observations and discussions with staff in the CRC case study area, it was evident that many had found the organisational restructuring brought about by Transforming Rehabilitation to be extremely challenging on both a personal and professional level.
Nearly all of those staff interviewed expressed the view that the organisational ‘split’ between the NPS and the CRC had been the most damaging aspect of the change process and in some cases had fractured long-standing and collaborative relationships. This was not helped by what was seen as an extremely rushed process of implementation that was perceived by many within the organisation to have been driven mainly by political and ideological reasons.
We identified staff experiencing feelings of loss on a number of levels. These included the physical loss of former colleagues as they were split between the two organisations and the loss of human capital through voluntary redundancies. For those in the CRCs, there was the loss of a public sector ethos and the loss of authority and legitimacy that many staff felt derived from being employed by the former Probation Trust and their role within the criminal justice system. This latter point is relevant to Question 2 (i) in that it was clear that sentencers in the local area studied had been given limited information and training on the impact of the reforms and were initially distrustful of the motives of the CRC and tended to direct their enquiries to the publically funded NPS. It remains to be seen as to whether or not these are a natural consequence of such radical reform or indicative of more systemic weaknesses in the new arrangements.
We concluded that probation staff appeared to be in a liminal state caught between the aspirations and the realities of the reforms and at the time of writing this would still appear to be the case. The current situation in which, even after three years, the new operational models have yet to be fully implemented has caused further uncertainty.
Whilst CRC staff have generally welcomed the move towards more flexible working models in the community there still remains considerable scepticism that the main driver behind this approach is to achieve financial savings rather than delivering quality interventions. The new owner’s energies appear to have been consumed by ensuring that they were meeting their contractual responsibilities. The TR reforms were promoted as a mechanism to promote innovation but certainly in the locality studied, the emphasis on implementing the reforms had in fact undermined some innovative projects especially those developed around relationship building adopting a desistance approach. On the other hand, the active involvement of service users in shaping service delivery was a welcome development. As the new owners have (perhaps understandably) sought to streamline their management structures across several areas this has led to a loss of local identity and leadership. Senior managers at the local level often appeared to lack support and were sometimes caught between having to respond to local challenges and what appeared to be distant lines of accountability and responsibility.
5. How can Through-the-Gate provision be improved so that prisoners get the right help before their release from prison and afterwards?
Our research into the ‘Through the Gate’ provision in a local Cat B resettlement prison would suggest that this is one of weaker elements of the reforms. In many respects this was linked to long-standing problems within the prison which meant that the enthusiasm and commitment of staff was tempered with having to deliver their services in an environment that was not conducive to meaningful rehabilitation.
On a practical level, we observed a duplication of services which in turn led to confusion for both prisoners and providers of services. The Basic Custody Screening Tool (BCST) seemed cumbersome and having to complete the process within such a short period of time meant that assessments were at best superficial or incomplete. Services within the prison did not appear to be integrated and this was compounded by a lack of communication between the provider commissioned by the CRC owners to provide services in the prison and CRC workers in the community (who appeared to have little or no contact during the custodial period).
Many of the prisoners interviewed for this study thus saw the extension of postrelease supervision as merely an extension of monitoring rather than providing help and support. Staff complained that they were often expending scarce resources on prisoners who were unmotivated and resistant to change which brings into question the need to provide a universal resettlement service or at least better targeting to provide meaningful interventions to those most in need especially given the lack of community resources available to support the resettlement process. The lack of meaningful engagement only served to engender resentment among prisoners and frustration among those staff interviewed.
Comments on organisational issues amongst those delivering Through-the –gate services centred upon the need for greater leadership and management, which in turn it was hoped would lead to enhanced communication, improved joined-up working practices and the removal of duplication, overlap and repetition.
It was also deemed important to reconceptualise resettlement so that an offender’s path through the criminal justice system is seen as a resettlement journey. This included the need for further support for families (to prepare them for the release of their loved one) but also the use of mentoring, which both staff and inmates saw great value in but didn’t believe was being utilised.
Across both research projects and throughout the diversity of partner agencies and range of roles represented there was acknowledgement that, prior to Transforming Rehabilitation, the delivery of rehabilitation services was in need of change and renewal. Many recognised and valued good practices that have been developed through time, and in partnership. However, there was ready acceptance that in terms of developing innovative practice, engaging those sentenced to less than 12-months, and in constructing seamless support that developed within and beyond the prison estate work was required on organisational structures and operational approaches to realise these ambitions. In practice, the speed of the introduction of the Transforming Rehabilitation reform programme and the scale of the profound changes outlined created such uncertainty that it became challenging for partners to retain their focus on developing their practice provision. The lack of a clear operational rationale for the scale of change that has been pursued since September 2013 was often cited by individuals in justifying their anxiety around the short and medium term restructuring of the management of offenders. As a consequence, whilst there was an appetite for change, the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms as understood and experienced by staff have felt too imposed and having been developed without due attention to the professional judgement and expertise that exists within the sector. For staff from all organisations who’ve experienced change it is the concerns around the robustness of the vision for the practice landscape being sought, and the absence of a fully reasoned mandate for the engineering of such widespread reform that continue to add to permeate a transitional working culture characterised by uncertainty and insecurity.
Dr Lawrence Burke, Professor in Criminal Justice,
Dr Matthew Millings, Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice,
Mr Stuart Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice,
Liverpool John Moores University.
Liverpool John Moores University.