Written evidence from Dr John Deering and Professor Martina Feilzer (TRH0018)
Dr John Deering, University of South Wales
Professor Martina Feilzer, Bangor University
Our submission is concerned with point 7 of the Inquiry Terms of Reference but may touch on aspects of the other topics. 7 When should there be a review of the future of the Transforming Rehabilitation model and the long-term plan for delivering probation services?
We feel that this ToR needs to go beyond the limits of ‘when’ there should be a review and to encompass a wider range of issues than the managerial and practice-based areas outlined in ToR 1 – 6. Clearly, these are of vital importance, but we are of the view that the Inquiry should also take into account: a) the ‘corporate’ values of probation organisations and the values of practitioners and b) the legitimacy of probation organisations and probation practice post Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) in the eyes of staff. In our view, values and questions of legitimacy have always had and will continue to have a significant impact upon practice and service delivery as they relate to the basic motivations held by those within probation about why they do the job and to the principles, aims and purposes of probation.
With regards to the question posed directly above, we are of the view that a review into the future of the Transforming Rehabilitation changes is urgently needed and long overdue.
This is due to three main conclusions from research into probation values and the legitimacy of probation practice, namely:
1. The values of Government, probation organisations and practitioners have been diverging and that the emerging tensions have now reached crisis point.
2. That the self-legitimacy of probation practitioners is under threat which will have a long-term effect on probation practice.
3. A review of probation needs to consider whether the current organisational structure is ‘fit for purpose’.
Probation’s ‘corporate’ values
The debate around probation’s corporate values and those of practitioners has emerged and developed over the past 30 years or so and one issue that has come to the fore is the increasing divergence between corporate (governmental) aims for the probation service and the views of practitioners.
From approximately the mid-1980s successive governments have become increasingly involved in the probation service and have followed policies aimed at moving it from its roots in social work with those who have committed offences (with an aim of rehabilitation) to one where, whilst rehabilitation is still retained, it has a much reduced role, being superseded in importance by law enforcement, risk assessment, managerialism, monitoring, and punishment (Deering 2016; Newburn 2003; Raynor 2012). One significant point in this process was the 1991 Criminal Justice Act which abolished the requirement for probation officers to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ those they supervised and changed the probation order from an alternative to a sentence and a chance to reform to ‘punishment in the community’, a sentence subject to judicial punishment for failures to comply with the terms of an Order. Also as a result of the Act, new sets of National Standards laid out clear and strict standards for levels of reporting etc. that limited probation officer discretion. Alongside the move to a more punishment-base system came the ‘rise of risk’, which required practitioners to assess those coming before the courts in terms of their risk of re-offending and risk of harm (Kemshall, 1996). The purpose of such assessments included the facilitation of the notion of ‘resources following risk’ (in this case risk of harm) which presaged the increased role of monitoring and surveillance by the service of higher risk of harm individuals and the related reduction in service afforded to the service’s more ‘traditional’ supervisee, the higher risk of re-offending individual who did not pose significant risk of harm (Deering 2011).
These changes revealed an increasing tendency in government to place less faith in rehabilitation and more with a limited monitoring and punishment role and a Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard abolished social work training for practitioners, seeking to recruit ex-armed forces personnel in order to ‘toughen up’ practice. In this period, a merger with the prison service and the ending of a supervisory function were also mooted (Deering 2016). Whilst the Labour Government elected in 1997 restored professional training, it was not based within social work, but had a narrower focus based of ‘effectiveness and reducing re-offending’.
Increased management of practice by government perhaps peaked with the creation of the National Probation Service for England and Wales in 2001. The new service had five main aims including the punishment of offenders and the protection of the public; rehabilitation was placed last of the five (Home Office 2001). Within a few years of the setting up of the new service, the government created the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) as a result of the Carter Report which considered the marketisation of the service under ‘contestability’ (Carter 2003). NOMS developed a commissioning model which along with the Offender Management Act 2007, laid the foundations for Transforming Rehabilitation (TR).
Until the mid-1980s, in very broad terms, probation’s organisational values might be seen to be ‘traditional’ in the sense of being humanitarian, allied to social work, and seeking the rehabilitation of those under supervision via the provision of ‘help’ in its broadest sense. This aimed to ameliorate a range of personal, social and economic problems faced by supervisees that were seen as underlying most offending. There had also been debates around the efficacy of ‘treatment’ models of rehabilitation and arguments were made for a more collaborative problem-solving approach (Bottoms & McWilliams 1979) but for the most part probation practice followed a case work paradigm (Vanstone 2004) based upon social work training. In the mid-1990s, Williams (1995) considered probation values to be: opposition to custody; opposition to oppression; commitment to justice for offenders; commitment to the client’s right to confidentiality and openness; valuing of clients as unique and self-determining individuals; aim to ensure that victims and potential victims are protected; belief that ‘purposeful professional relationships can facilitate change in clients’ (Williams 1995: 12- 20). In a similar vein, Napo (2006) published its own view of professional values, arguing that individuals have the ability to change. It set out the following values to which it was committed: respect and trust when working with perpetrators and victims; open and fair treatment for all; empowerment of individuals in order to reduce the risk of harm to themselves and others; promotion of equality and anti-discrimination; promotion of the rights of both perpetrators and victims; building on individuals’ strengths as a vehicle for change (Napo 2006).
However, whilst these values represent statements of belief, there is empirical evidence that reveals practitioners holding such views. Moreover, evidence suggests that practitioners have seen these values coming under pressure over the past few decades, something that they felt Transforming Rehabilitation would exacerbate, perhaps irrevocably so. Studies (e.g. Annison et al. 2008; Deering 2010; Deering 2011; Mawby & Worrall 2013) have consistently shown that practitioners have joined the probation service to work empathically with individuals experiencing a range of social and personal problems that underlie their offending. They desire to ‘make a difference’ with individuals who are seen as capable of change within an organisation able to assist such change. However, studies have also shown practitioners becoming concerned at top-down changes to the values of the organisation as outlined above, which have put their professional values under pressure. These included an increasingly pervasive managerialism which promotes procedures ahead of practice and outcomes, an emphasis on law enforcement and punishment. Moreover, whilst acknowledging that the assessment and management of risk are a vital and central element of probation practice, there was a feeling that (other than with high risk of harm individuals) the best way to protect the public was to assist in rehabilitative behavioural change, rather than a more reductive surveillance role. As a result, studies showed values adapting to some of the new government agenda, but also to a schism between the views of government, probation organisations, and those of practitioners about the aims of purposes of probation, what constitutes ‘quality’ probation practice, the process of enforcement and other matters (Deering 2011; Farrow 2004; Mawby & Worrall 2013; Robinson & McNeill 2004; Robinson et al. 2014). Moreover, practitioners were describing how they ‘adapted’ government policy to enable them to continue to practice in a manner that fitted with their own values. In other words, some degree of resistance to changing organisational values was emerging (Deering 2011; Mawby & Worrall 2013).
Regarding the government’s proposals for Transforming Rehabilitation, we received over 1300 responses to an online survey conducted in March/April 2014 with probation staff about the prospects for probation following the changes (Deering & Feilzer 2015). The survey revealed feelings of anger and betrayal about the changes, linked to the aims of probation and values but also the prospect (at the time) of a marketised and partially privatised service. Most respondents felt that the service should be wholly maintained within the public sector and that the private sector (and to a lesser degree the third sector) had different priorities, aims and values related to the demands of a commercial operation. Many respondents feared for the future of the service and their own position within it. Clearly, the split of probation and the outsourcing of CRCs raised for practitioners some fundamental questions about the ethics of private companies making profits from crime, victimisation, and punishment. Furthermore, recent ethnographic research which looked at the formation of a CRC from the inside, identified a number of themes that are important to the discussion here. These include separation and loss, status anxiety, loyalty and trust, and liberation and innovation. Authors concluded that the notion of ‘liminality’ – of being caught in transition between the old and the new – the ‘public and the outsourced’, was the most fundamental and important theme (Robinson et al. 2016).
Thus, we argue that the value systems of government, probation organisations, and practitioners have been diverging to some degree and this has significantly accelerated since TR. We would suggest that this divergence will lead to a legitimacy crisis for probation practitioners and we turn to this point now.
Legitimacy of Probation – organisation and practice
Here, we would like to highlight a possible long-term effect on probation practitioners’ sense of the legitimacy of their practice. We consider this a vital element of successful criminal justice agencies. Legitimacy is also important in terms of the views of people and organisations outside probation and of those supervised by the NPS and CRCs and TR poses challenges for both. However, our concern here is the impact of TR on the self-legitimacy felt by practitioners.
Bradford and Quinton (2014) developed ‘correlates of self-legitimacy’ when studying the self-legitimacy of police officers which comprised: respondents’ confidence in their own authority and their sense that they occupy a special position in society; the extent to which police officers feel that they are enabled and supported by their organisation and that they internalise the values represented by their organisation and identify with the organisation; a shared group identity. We adapted these for the probation service and concluded that the split of the probation service into the NPS and the CRC had a significant effect on some probation practitioners’ sense of self-legitimacy, which appears to have been severely disrupted. Moreover, some respondents to our survey were convinced that their concern for the legitimacy of probation practice would be shared by those under probation supervision and might thus affect levels of compliance with court orders.
Our research suggested that practitioners had grave concerns about the ethics of the CRCs and they were frustrated by a perception of an erosion of common organisational values. There was apprehension about having two different organisations involved in probation – one ‘real’ probation service and the other a ‘second class probation’, a fear that was also identified in further work in a CRC (Robinson et al. 2016). Indeed, Robinson et al. (2016) noted that probation practitioners thought the CRC to be ‘socially invisible’ without a clear identity and that practitioners felt a strain on their previous identity within the ‘honourable profession’ of probation due to being ‘tainted’ by perceived private sector values and priorities.
Research on the impact of restructuring on both the CRCs and the NPS by Kirton and Guillaume (2015) argued that probation practitioners feel that TR has de-professionalised the service and that stress levels are high, due to higher workloads, job insecurity, less autonomy and reduced opportunities for training and progression. Since the introduction of TR, both CRCs and NPS have seen an exodus of experienced staff and Kirton and Guillaume (2015) suggested that many respondents in their study were considering leaving the service and that a further attrition is likely.
More recently a number of HMIP reports into probation performance after TR have pointed to concerns about practical challenges caused by increased workloads, flawed CRC delivery models, concerns over the quality of PSRs, supervision arrangements, breach procedures, sentencers’ trust in community sentences and Serious Further Offences (SFOs) (HMIP 2016a; HMIP 2016b; Panorama 2017).
In our view the cumulative effect of the changes to probation’s corporate values, the divergence of values between practitioners and government and the recent dramatic changes to governance and organisational arrangements, may have already started to affect practitioners’ sense of self-legitimacy. This, in turn may have a long-term corrosive effect upon probation practice and its wider legitimacy. An important aspect of self-legitimacy is the extent to which practitioners feel that they are enabled and supported by their organisation and that they internalise the values represented by their organisation (Bradford and Quinton 2014). In our view, the current situation means that the self-legitimacy of many practitioners is, at the very least, in some doubt. This in turn may lower morale and foster discontent with the quality services provided to those under supervision. If practitioners come to feel that the service provided to supervisees is not what it had previously been, this may have a negative effect on their feelings of being the holders of legitimate authority.
There is evidence to suggest that practice is already changing and that probation provision is becoming increasingly fragmented with clear differences emerging between NPS and CRCs, different CRCs owners, and different regions (HMIP 2016a). In our view, considerable damage has been done to some individual probation staff’s sense of being a member of a ‘collective of professionals doing an important job well’ (Ugelvik 2016).