Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The Future of Probation

Following on from yesterday's blog and the need for government to admit that TR has been an unmitigated disaster, with exquisite timing I notice that Frances Crook and the Howard League have been giving considerable thought to how things could be done better. And thank goodness, because it's been painfully clear for some time that probation still lacks an effective and authoritative voice of its own.

Funnily enough, almost as Frances published her latest blog, Rory Stewart was in the process of preparing the ground for an admission of failure by telling Bob Neill and the Justice Select Committee about Carillion's impossibly low bid for prison maintenance work, neatly pinning the blame on his predecessor Chris Grayling. The new minister strikes everyone as being honourable and it's surely only a matter of time before he decides to draw a line under TR and signals a willingness to consider a way out of this omnishambles? 

Community Justice and the future of probation

Forgive me but this blog will be a little longer than usual. We have been thinking a lot about the future of probation at the Howard League, given the train-wreck that was the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms introduced by Chris Grayling.

The Justice Select Committee is the latest body to deliver a damning critique of what has happened to probation services in England and Wales.

Now the big question is what next?

What follows is a work in progress and represents our developing thoughts on what might be a new vision for probation – Community Justice. Please tell us what you think – either by commenting on this blog or emailing our office.
Community Justice means thinking about structure and service delivery.


The structure of Community Justice reform is based on three key principles:

  • A national strategic focus, with leadership and accountability
  • Local service delivery, with multi-agency involvement
  • Minimum restructuring and minimum cost
The probation system currently fails on the first two of these principles and is not fit for purpose:

  • There is no national strategic focus because while there is a National Probation Service (NPS), the NPS only works with a section of the probation population. Neither has the NPS the independence required to provide a national strategic focus to probation work, being part of a larger body, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).
  • On local service delivery, the artificial split between the NPS and the privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) has created a two-tier system with no obvious coterminosity with itself, let alone with other local structures such as police force areas or local authorities.
A new structure would address these problems, and seek to meet the third key principle, in the following ways:

  • Create a Community Justice Agency
A national strategic focus would be created by making Community Justice truly independent. Probation would be separated from HMPPS and a new Community Justice Agency would be created to provide strategic leadership, promote best practice and ensure a level of consistency in local service delivery.

Separating probation and prisons provides a clearer distinction between the two services, reinforcing their separate identities and professional expertise.

The new Community Justice Agency would have responsibility for workforce development. It could take on a similar role to the College of Policing and replace the Probation Institute, with a commitment to working with research-intensive universities to evaluate and innovate on interventions. The evidence base for Community Justice and a public health approach is stronger than ever, but it is not being effectively exploited.

The Community Justice Agency would be led by a figurehead with responsibility for providing a national voice on the issues. There would be a role for the Agency to set some clear national targets around service expectations that could be developed locally (see below). It would also be responsible for some specific services that could only be provided nationally, for example, contact with the victims of prisoners.

  • Create local Community Justice Partnerships
Local service delivery would involve ending the split between the NPS and the CRCs and forming new Community Justice Partnerships (CJPs). The CJPs would deliver and commission probation services at a local level.

In order to minimise further disruption to the probation landscape, these CJPs could be structured around the current 21 community rehabilitation contract areas. Each CJP would be governed by a board of relevant criminal justice partners, and could be chaired by a local Police and Crime Commissioner or Mayor.

We recognise the existing 21 areas are not ideal but structuring around the TR reforms at least minimises disruption and cost. They would be the starting point for increasingly local arrangements and a move towards a more sensible coterminosity across local government and criminal justice partners.

Members of the CJP boards would include representatives from the police, local authorities, local voluntary groups and members of the community, sentencers, health boards and regional prison management. In cities such as London and Manchester, where the PCC role is subsumed into a larger mayoralty role, there would be scope for wider devolution of justice services and a whole system approach.

Service delivery

The Community Justice Agency would provide a national strategic framework to this local service delivery. As with the structural reforms, this delivery should be based around two key principles, enshrined where necessary in legislation and which the Community Justice Agency would promote.

Community Justice should be:

  • Targeted properly towards those who will most benefit
Just as the prison system is overcrowded, so is the probation system. There should be a national review of the extent of community orders and of post-custody supervision. The Crown Prosecution Service has a statutory duty to prosecute only in the public interest; thus the CJPs should have a similar duty to supervise only in the public interest. Such a duty would involve targeting and designing supervision so as to support desistance and reintegration.

At the same time, and helped by a tighter focus on the use of interventions, community orders would be reinforced and properly resourced to improve sentencer confidence. Post-custody supervision for those on short sentences should be removed in favour of voluntary local arrangements.

Community Justice would require a much more focused and responsive probation system than is currently possible under excessive and expansionary caseloads. A strategic focus on the application of criminal justice sanctions, at both the local and the national level, would make clear the relationship between sentencers and those delivering sentences.

  • Run properly in order to help people desist from crime
Successive reforms based around market competition have been pushed by various administrations since the formation of the National Offender Management Service. These reforms have all failed because probation services cannot sensibly fit within a market structure. Commissioning arrangements should be based on cooperation and joint purpose rather than competition. Efficiencies can be achieved through local organisations, including the voluntary sector, sharing mutual investment in services and co-commissioning to reflect local need.

Community Justice must be run on clear desistance principles. Service delivery would be run in a way that makes help accessible, encourages compliance and prioritises timely completion – over supervision for its own sake and models which promote incarceration by encouraging breach and recall. There would be some clear targets around service expectations set by the Community Justice Agency at a national level but these would developed by CJPs to give more regard to local circumstances and to ensure professional discretion can be exercised where appropriate. Such targets would include measures to ensure proper regard be given to delivering and commissioning for particular groups, such as gender-specific and BAME-specific services.

Frances Crook


Russell Webster:-

"Makes a lot of sense apart from 21 areas. I can see the rationale but hard to have local leadership when CRCs area doesn’t fit with PCC or CJ board boundaries. The problem is one we all face. It’s relatively easy to design a good probation model starting from scratch, designing one from the mess of TR is much trickier."


  1. BBC Website:-

    The government has abandoned plans for five community prisons for women in England and Wales. Instead, the Ministry of Justice will trial five residential centres to help offenders with issues such as finding work and drug rehabilitation.

    Justice Secretary David Gauke said short custodial sentences had failed to halt the "cycle of offending".

    Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said "thousands" of women would benefit from the change. He described the strategy as a "welcome recognition of the futility of short prison sentences" for women whose offending is often driven by "unmet mental health needs".

    In the foreword to the strategy published on Wednesday, Mr Gauke said 70.7% of women and 62.9% of men released from custody between April and June 2016 after a sentence of less than a year went on to re-offend within 12 months.

    Mr Gauke added there was "persuasive evidence" that the new approach would help reduce re-offending rates. He said mothers at the trial residential centres might be able to have their children with them.

    The government has pledged to spend £5m over two years on "community provision" for women.

    The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) has welcomed the change in strategy. But Dame Vera Baird QC, representing the APCC, warned the scheme would only work if properly funded and questioned the MoJ's decision to hand £50m - originally earmarked for the prisons - back to the Treasury.

    Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said ministers deserved "real praise" for the change in approach but - like the APCC - warned it was "essential" that programme is "properly funded".

    1. Commenting on the publication of the Ministry of Justice’s female offender strategy today (27 June 2018), Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

      “The strategy is welcome recognition of the futility of short prison sentences for women whose offending is often driven by abusive relationships or unmet mental health needs. The strategy recognises that many women are victims of more serious crimes than those they are accused of, and contains many positive promises of change. But it has not provided the resource to deliver that change, and no timetable to drive it.

      “If the Government turns its good intentions into action, many thousands of women and families, including victims, will benefit. That work must start immediately."

  2. Probation occupies a place within the CJS now that it was never designed to occupy.
    Practical solutions are always advanced, but I think the problems are more of conceptual a nature.
    Fundamentally, why does society need a probation service at all?


    1. Someone to blame for all the problems in the land

    2. That's very negative.

      I actually have absolutely no doubt that the biggest problems that face offenders in the main is in-met need and that having a social worker/Probation Officer/worker of any kind who can help the individual meet that need, the individual will stop offending almost immediately (I ran a DTTO unit and the 'entrenched' drug users almost always stopped offending as soon as they were able to get the help they needed (properly funded etc). The simple truth is that agencies are generally failing to meet the needs of the people they work with and the statutory agencies are working with failure rather than facilitating success.


      At the DWP, David Gauke built up a reputation among colleagues as a minister who could balance the competing pressures to push through public service reforms, make the Tories appear more compassionate and also win Treasury backing. At the Ministry of Justice, he’s trying to do the same and today’s announcement on women’s offending is a case in point. Gauke has abandoned plans for five community prisons for women in England and Wales (which saves a hell of a lot of cash) and instead pushed trials for five residential centres to help offenders find work and drug rehab.

      The Justice Secretary says short custodial sentences had failed to halt the “cycle of offending”, a point made by his fellow minister Rory Stewart. Both feel the wrath of the Daily Mail’s splash – ‘A Green Light For Criminals’ - which quotes Tory backbencher Philip Davies saying the plans are “idiotic”. Gauke wins praise from the Prison Reform Trust, which says the new strategy is a “welcome recognition of the futility of short prison sentences” for women whose offending is often driven by “unmet mental health needs”.

      But as in his DWP days, not everyone is convinced by all of Gauke’s motives and some see his inner-Treasury minister as the key driver. Former MP and now Police and Crime Commissioner chief Vera Baird says the £50m saved from not building new prisons should be pumped into rehab (the residential centres pilot costs just £3.5m) and not handed back to the Treasury. And the Prison Reform Trust says the MoJ has “not provided the resource to deliver that change, and no timetable to drive it”. Gauke told Today that scrapping the community prisons was not a cost-cutting measure: “Even if we had extra resources, this wouldn’t be a good way of using it.”

  3. To be frank even if change was implemented given the composition of the majority of staff now and I don't mean to be rude that we are not going to go back to any type of agency that is equipped to support people.
    PSO's poorly trained holding cases they should never had
    Rubbish training for PO's focused on process
    General punitive culture of staff
    Staff not able to think out of box or use initiative
    Dr professionalised and increasingly poorly paid workforce. HOW not to compete for the brightest graduates
    Sorry and no disrespect but this is my experience and I have no axe to ground. It would be akin to when the RUC was disbounded and starting again with new recruitment .

    1. And that's the real problem Annon @ 15:05

  4. The future of Napo under Ian Lawrence is it will go bust and achieve f*** all for members. How long as Ian been GS? How long has it been since we got a pay rise. One job comes to mind and he couldn't achieve that. Oh well EDM write to your MP campaign has started. I am already planning how to spend my pay rise (sarcasm).

    1. Answers to your question.
      1) To long.
      2) Nothing.

    2. Congratulations to IL on his sucessfull re election outcome and to all those voters for supporting him through this difficult test and poor show to both campaigners for MR.