Tuesday, 28 May 2019

A Matter of Principle

The battle for the future shape of probation is now well under way with more and more commentators making the case for a return to a stand-alone Probation Service free of the stultifying ethos of the Prison Service. The latest edition of the Probation Institute Journal sets out a number of principles that should be embraced:-  

Renationalising Probation?

Helen Schofield, Acting CEO of the Probation Institute, updates readers on recent discussions about the future of Probation.

A group of organisations have been working together in recent months to seek common ground on the future of Probation. Whilst not always in agreement we have found some strong initial principles and recognition of the more challenging issues. The importance of this work cannot be underestimated. No matter what the timescale for change it will be crucial that the organisations in the criminal justice system who care very much about the role and future of probation can speak with one voice on central concerns. 

We have published the Initial Principles and these are set out below. Since then discussions have enabled us to identify a set of further issues which will need considerable thought in informing the future. If there is a move to re-unite probation either completely or as in the proposed model for Wales (as anticipated in the Initial Principles) the model must look forward and address carefully many issues including the following: 

1. What is the core role? What is it that we want Probation to do going forward? 

2. The fusion of the Probation and Prison Services through NOMS and HMPPS needs review. This is clearly experienced as an uneven relationship and time needs to be taken to look at the benefits and disbenefits together with alternative models which locate probation more firmly in communities. 

3. The opportunities and risks entailed in GPS-enabled Electronic Monitoring, as a sentence of the court, must be grasped and addressed by Probation including the wider potential for supporting and enabling rehabilitation and protecting victims. 

4. Commissioning of voluntary sector work to enhance supervision in the community must be better resourced, more transparent and consistent, and taken forward through joint commissioning structures. 

5. Police and Crime Commissioners are very supportive and enabling in some areas, particularly with CRCs; their energy and potential role should be explored more fully and engaged more consistently. 

6. The active engagement of Health Trusts and Local Authorities in accepting responsibility for the mental and physical health, and housing of individuals who have committed offences in the community must be robustly re-enforced and re-imagined, and therefore requires review across government departments. 

7. There are a number of critical areas which will need careful attention in any reunification model including the current size of the workforce, roles and responsibilities of different grades, office accommodation and above all the dynamics of re-uniting a fractured workforce. 

8. There is important innovative practice in some CRCs which must be protected and either alternatively resourced or effectively integrated. 

The organisations working in collaboration are planning a Round Table Discussion with wider participation to look at these issues in detail. 

Probation Alliance Initial Position Statement on Principles for a Future Model for Probation

The following have been agreed as initial principles which should inform urgent discussions about a future model for the structure of probation services in England and Wales. 

1. Current Position 

  • Management of, and decision making in relation to the current position is creating serious risks to the public, to the confidence of sentencers, to the morale of the profession and to service users. These risks were set out in our original and follow-up letters to the Secretary of State. They have been clearly highlighted by the NAO report.
  • We will continue to press for a pause in the process and the transfer of Community Rehabilitation Companies to the original 21 companies wholly owned by the Secretary of State set up in public ownership in 2014 to facilitate this.
  • We have additional significant concerns about the speedy roll-out of the Offender Management In Custody programme. This is transforming the Probation landscape, creating new “facts on the ground” which may cut off options that could emerge from the current review which affords opportunities for new thinking.
2. Principles for Future Models 

  • The recreation of an independent professional leadership for Probation, for example, the re-establishment of Chief Probation Officer roles. 
  • The reunification of Probation.
  • A publically owned service with directly employed staff.
  • Governance of Probation should ensure both national and active local engagement.
  • Dedicated funding must remain the responsibility of central government and where devolved must be ring-fenced.
  • A future model must integrate provision of case management and the delivery of core interventions, like unpaid work and accredited programmes, under public ownership whilst encouraging the provision of rehabilitative services from other providers, particularly the voluntary sector.
  • A future model should ensure that generic services that are fundamental to rehabilitation – health, housing, education, social care - are co-ordinated across central and local government.
  • Evidence of best practice should inform future structures. This should involve looking at jurisdictions beyond England and Wales, including Scotland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the USA.
  • The case for looking more widely is strengthened when the future model of Probation is considered in the light of the Secretary of State’s ambition to abolish the use of short sentences.
  • A future model must ensure that use of technology both as a tool for assisting community supervision and as a recording/ case management system must be fully aligned with probation values and best practice and should support rather than supersede or impede face to face engagement.
  • A future model must ensure that Probation practitioners and leaders are appropriately trained. Professional development, qualifications and ethical standards should be overseen by an independent body.
3. Possible models 

  • We agree that we should continue discussion on further aspects of a future model.
  • There is broad agreement that in any future model, publicly owned and run Probation services should be part of a local joint commissioning structures.
  • The role of Police and Crime Commissioners and particularly Metropolitan Mayors should be recognised but there must be the same operational independence for chief probation officers as there is currently for chief constables and a clear separation between Police and those involved in the delivery of sentences.
  • Future models should address the interface with Youth Justice particularly around transition to adulthood.
Probation Institute 
Howard League for Penal Reform 
Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Centre for Justice Innovation 
BASW Criminal Justice England


  1. I see the MoJ spin machine is back at work. This from the BBC website:-

    More inmates in England and Wales will be able to leave prison for a day or overnight in order to take jobs. The relaxing of the rules - six years after they were tightened - is intended to boost prisoners' job prospects.

    The government also revealed that 230 new businesses, including Pret A Manger and Greene King, have joined its offender work placement scheme. Some 300 business were already part of the scheme, which builds partnerships between prisons and employers.

    The decision to ease the rules on day and overnight release is part of a government effort to reduce re-offending, which is estimated to cost society £15bn a year.

    Release on temporary licence (ROTL) allows prisoners to spend time in the community for short periods, normally towards the end of their sentence. Last year, 7,700 inmates were able to work outside prison or stay out overnight; under the new measures, it's expected that number will increase by several hundred.

    Under the new rules, inmates in open or women's prisons are eligible to undertake paid work immediately after they have passed a "rigorous" risk assessment - previously this was only allowed if the prisoner was within 12 months of release.

    Additionally, a restriction on ROTL in the first three months after transferring to open conditions will be lifted and overnight leave can now be considered at an earlier stage. The application process is also being made more efficient, according to officials.

    ROTL numbers fell after a 2013 review by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. That followed convicted killer Ian McLoughlin, who had been allowed out of prison for the day, stabbing a man to death. Overall, the temporary release of prisoners fell by almost one third in five years.

    Justice Secretary David Gauke said: "Broadening access to training and work opportunities is a vital part of our strategy to steer offenders away from a life of crime and ultimately keep the public safe. Many organisations are recognising the value of giving offenders a second chance, and we have carefully listened to their feedback before making these changes. I urge more businesses to join this movement and help ex-offenders turn their backs on crime for good."

    The Prison Reform Trust welcomed the rule change, calling it a "step in the right direction" but added that "there is much further to go".

    The charity's director, Peter Dawson, said "prisoners are serving longer sentences than ever before" and that "these changes will mainly benefit only the minority who have managed to get to an open prison towards the very end of their time inside".

    1. Allowing prisoners who may be nearing the end of their sentence to spend time in the community is a vital element of their reintegration into society. It may help them secure valuable work experience, gain qualifications or learn new skills. For some inmates it is about re-building family ties. And for those serving life or indeterminate sentences it is a way for the authorities to gauge whether offenders can be trusted on the outside.

      But after the appalling case in 2013 of Ian McLoughlin, the temporary release scheme rules were tightened and the number let out dropped sharply. That led to complaints from prison reform campaigners that the restrictions, imposed by the former justice secretary Chris Grayling, were too onerous. Ministers have therefore sought a compromise which they hope will further prisoner rehabilitation - and keep the public safe.

      Danny Shaw

    2. It's great if you can transition from prison to community and keep the job.
      It's not so great if you're working from a prison in Buckinghamshire and you're being released to Newcastle.


    3. https://metro.co.uk/2019/05/28/short-term-sentence-ruined-chance-normal-life-says-ex-prisoner-9704685/

  2. None of these initiatives should be seen outside of the broader political issues around the demographic timebomb and ‘ brexit.’
    The population is declining, and cheap labour is disappearing.
    Where better to find a source for exploitation than in our prisons where educational standards are low and life expectations lower.
    Many of the prisoners I work with are hugely intelligent ( or clever - there is a difference) but have never had the opportunities that would enable them Prosper.
    We should be focusing upon education, qualifications and integration. Addressing substance misuse and the impact of capitalism on steroids where it is every person for themselves and devil take the hindmost.
    Offending does not exist in a vacuum, it is a symptom of a wider malaise in society and requires root and branch change to the systems of control to implement change.

  3. https://metro-co-uk.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/metro.co.uk/2019/05/28/police-didnt-tell-probation-killers-threats-burned-mum-alive-9716764/amp/?amp_js_v=a2&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQA#referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fmetro.co.uk%2F2019%2F05%2F28%2Fpolice-didnt-tell-probation-killers-threats-burned-mum-alive-9716764%2F

    1. Police failed to inform probation services about a convicted killer who threatened to rape a woman before he tortured and burned alive a mother-of-two, an inquest has heard.

      Stephen Unwin raped Quyen Ngoc Nguyen, 28, on August 15, 2017, before teaming up with William McFall to kill her. The pair, who met in prison while serving life sentences for separate murders, took her body up a dirt track in Shiney Row, near Sunderland, before setting her car on fire while she was ‘just alive’.

      Her burned remains, which had to be identified through dental records, were found face down on the back seat of her Audi A5 by police officers.

      Unwin, 40, of Houghton-le-Spring, Sunderland, had been reported to police for threatening to ‘smash in’ a young woman’s jaw before taking it in turns with an accomplice to rape her, a court heard. He sent the Facebook message on July 2, 2017, just one month before he killed Ms Ngoc Nguyen, originally from Vietnam, and the complainant said they knew Unwin had been in prison. But the complainant did not want to take matters further.

      Another piece of intelligence related to a report that Unwin had allegedly threatened to assault a teenager, the inquest heard.

      Since Unwin was released from jail on licence on December 20, 2012 and ahead of Ms Ngoc Nguyen’s murder, Northumbria Police received 26 ‘items of intelligence’ against him. The inquest heard how McFall, 51, was not known to Northumbria Police prior to the offence.

      Senior Corner Derek Winter told the court: ‘As is previously indicated, Unwin appeared on the radar of the police when he was released from prison in February 2012. ‘There appeared to be about 26 items of intelligence recorded about him.’

      A report recorded in 2015 also showed that Unwin had been seen by an officer with a diesel can, however it did not appear to have been followed up by police. He was also found to be in a prohibited area but the breach of licence was not reported to the probation service.

      During evidence, DI Edward Small, of Northumbria Police, said there was no record of officers following up suggestions that Unwin had moved house, or passing the information to the probation service. He told the court how a computer ‘flag’ system which was used to show police officers important information about an individual was introduced by Northumbria Police in 2013. But it was stopped in 2015 as it took up too much of police officer’s time and was left to individual officers.

      DI Small said the system was generating four or five different flags for one incident, while police were coming into ‘pages and pages of these flags’ on a Monday morning. The inquest heard how a ‘warning’ on the system about Unwin was not updated once the flag system stopped. DI Small said following Ms Ngoc Nguyen’s murder in August 2017, a new system was put in place so that information won’t be missed.

      Unwin and McFall both denied one charge or murder and one count of rape but following a trial, jurors found both men guilty of murder.

      The former was also found guilty of raping Ms Ngoc Nguyen, and in April last year, Mr Justice Morris sentenced both men to life behind bars with no provision for them to ever be released.

      The inquest continues.