Thursday, 30 May 2019

The March of Alphabetism

Call it what you like, probation over recent years has always loved stringing letters together in a veritable alphabet soup of impenetrable acronyms or abbreviations. Of course it goes hand in hand with the march of bureaucratisation and a command and control ethos, so no surprise the trend flourishes under HMPPS control. In the latest edition of the Probation Institutes magazine [correction] I notice that EPF, yet another bloody process and form to fill in, is heralded as a great success:-       

Being conscious of the unconscious

Sonia Crozier, the Chief Probation Officer, talks about recognising unconscious bias, particularly following recommendations in the Lammy Review.

Probation practitioners on the front line are making important decisions on a daily basis – decisions which have real-life outcomes for our service users and the public. As Chief Probation Officer, I have always championed the use of professional judgment in our work, and taken all opportunities to promote it. We have an incredibly skilled workforce, and probation work should never be robotic. 

But with professional judgment comes responsibility, and decisions we make should always be informed, transparent and consistently factor in unconscious bias. This is particularly pertinent in the fast-paced environment of courts. In 2017, the Lammy Review put a spotlight on the role of Pre-Sentence Reports (PSRs) helping to scrutinise sentencing decisions and providing detailed information on the character of an offender. But the Lammy Review also highlighted the effects of unconscious bias, and how having less time to complete a PSR might exaggerate it. With that in mind, the Effective Proposal Framework (EPF) was designed in 2017. The EPF is a digital application which aids probation staff in court by providing an objective shortlist of interventions for an offender, checked against eligibility, which could be proposed. Its development was led by Roz Hamilton in the North-West NPS division and was rolled out nationwide in April 2018, following pilots in Manchester and Bury, and approval from the then Secretary of State, Liz Truss MP. 

The EPF does not replace professional judgment. Far from it; practitioners still need to interview defendants, do all the applicable checks and input profile data accurately. Rather, the EPF allows staff to be more efficient by refining a list of options and automatically making sure proposal criteria are met along sentencing guidelines and risk matrices. Ultimately, staff must use their own discretion in choosing a final proposal and can override the shortlist; it is just that the EPF makes sure we are doing this in a more efficient, accurate and consistent manner, mitigating against any unconscious bias. 

On that, I must emphasise the importance of consistency when thinking about bias. Since Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) placed court work under the one roof of the NPS, it is imperative that a standardised approach to rehabilitation is maintained so that, whether sentenced in Swansea or Newcastle, Ipswich or Carlisle, service users are always assessed within the same parameters. 

The EPF has also allowed practitioners to focus on targeted interventions, which is vital in deepening relationships with CRC colleagues, addressing a decline in community orders and giving effect to new policy and strategies, including the Women’s Strategy. The EPF has provided a re-fresh in our knowledge of interventions in each division, and the eligibility for these, by challenging us to think about what we are proposing. So, not only is the tool addressing unconscious bias, it is subtly helping us to individually uphold our main missions of rehabilitation and reducing risk and re-offending. 

And it is working! Analysis in the North West shows a positive trend on proposals since the EPF was introduced. Between April and June 2018, when compared to the same period in the previous year, the total proportion of custodial sentences decreased from 55% to 44%. Conversely, the proportion of community sentences rose from 47% to 56%, with accredited programme usage increasing by a third. Female offenders were already more likely, prior to rollout, to receive a community disposal than custody, but the rate decreased from 43% to 35%. Similarly, BAME offenders were more likely than the general population to receive custody, and although this remains the case, the proportion dropped from 57% to 52%.

I can appreciate that in an already pressurised court environment, asking our staff to complete another process is not preferable. To address this, the EPF team continues to make the tool as user friendly as possible, with several recent efficiency updates, and I am pleased these have been met with a positive reception. One practitioner recently told us that the EPF had helped him to influence the bench to keep an offender out of custody, by using information from the tool to present a more detailed PSR with a quick turnaround. 

Examples such as this show how the EPF can help us to increase sentencer confidence in probation: through providing detailed and specific proposals. More than ever, this is central. The Secretary of State, David Gauke, announced on 18 February 2019 his vision for a ‘smart’ justice system and the strong case to abolish ineffective prison sentences of six months or less, switching resources instead into probation. He emphasised the importance of a probation system which has the full confidence of courts and the public. Sentencer confidence will be at the heart of this and, as part of improving confidence, the NPS conducted the Sentencer Survey which provided valuable feedback on our court activity. The overarching sentiment is that sentencers, more than ever, appreciate the support we give them. Of course, there are some areas we can work on, particularly when it comes to the quality of our delivery in the courtroom, and this has informed the new Vision Statement that the National Court Strategy Group has developed (we plan to launch it later this year). It will provide NPS staff with a clear steer for the next two years to help them deliver high-quality court work and increase confidence. 

In a roundabout way, a key component of this will be the use of the EPF. Evidenced-based, consistent and detailed proposals should be central to our work. We can never be complacent when it comes to unconscious bias!

Sonia Crozier
Chief of Probation HMPPS


  1. Message From The Directorate:

    probation work should never be robotic.... I have always championed the use of professional judgment in our work...


    - it is imperative that a standardised approach to rehabilitation is maintained

    - it is just that the EPF makes sure we are doing this in a more efficient, accurate and consistent manner,

    - it is subtly helping us to individually uphold our main missions of rehabilitation and reducing risk and re-offending.

    - EPF allows staff to be more efficient by refining a list of options and automatically making sure proposal criteria are met along sentencing guidelines and risk matrices

    - the new Vision Statement that the National Court Strategy Group has developed (we plan to launch it later this year)... a key component of this will be the use of the EPF. Evidenced-based, consistent and detailed proposals should be central to our work.

    You are only as professional as the central directives you follow. Unconscious deviancy must be eradicated. [applause].

    Message Ends.

    1. To the Magnitorsker Steelworks Combine. To the Director of the Combine, Comrade Borissov.

      To the Chief Engineer of the Combine, Comrade Voronov.

      To the Party Organizer of the C.C., C.P.S.U.(B.), Comrade Svetiov.

      To the Chairman of the Trade Union, Comrade Pliskanos.

      To the Comsomol Organizer of the C.C. of the Comsomol, Comrade Pankov.

      I greet and congratulate the men and women workers, engineers, technicians and employees of the Magnitorsker Steelworks Combine and the "Magnitostroj" Trust on the twentieth anniversary of the opening of the Combine, the mighty metallurgic basis of the country.

      The steel workers of Magnitorsk have, as upright sons and daughters of our Motherland, throughout the years, honestly and devotedly worked for the development of the production capacity of the Combine, successfully applied the new technology, continued the unbroken production of metal and honourably fulfilled the task set by the Party and the government to supply our country with metal.

      I wholeheartedly wish you, Comrades, new success in your work.

      J. STALIN

      ("Pravda," 31 January, 1952)


    2. My current workload would put Stakhanov himself to shame

  2. Armando - Stalin isn't dead after all.

  3. On the subject of acronyms, there are increasingly rumours that OMiC has hit the rocks. At least it’s sister ship Titanic managed a maiden voyage!
    No doubt the captain(s) are already in the lifeboats while the crew will be left to go down with the rusting hulk.
    Anybody know anything?

  4. There's a lot of both conscious and unconscious bias amongst probation workers. For example, a lot of them assume that any woman who commits a crime must be mentally ill is astounding. Yes in some cases this is the case but in others it is not and to have your PO's insist on labelling you as mentally ill because of their bias that female offenders have to be mad to be bad when you are not is appalling. They would be aghast if someone labelled them mentally ill simply because of their gender so they shouldn't do it to anyone unless there is medical evidence.

  5. Something sounding ever so familiar.

    I don't understand why the government think the privateers would have any more success running offender programmes then they have running CRCs?


    1. They have good leadership though. Perhaps all these CRC leaders could be persuaded to deploy their skills on the frontline?

    2. The Cumbria and Lancashire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) - which is privately run and provides probation services in the area - has been ordered to improve after a damning report said offenders were not being properly supervised as standards have slipped since an inspection in 2017.

      HM Inspectorate of Probation praised staff and said the CRC was "well led and has a clear strategy" - but warned of a "serious shortage of qualified staff to handle higher risk of harm

      The organisation was given an overall rating of "requires improvement". Its leadership was rated "good" while five categories were given a "requires improvement" grading and a further four classed as "inadequate".

      Two years ago, inspectors found the CRC to be "good" overall and said some practices were exemplary. However, today's report concluded the overall quality of probation supervision was not good enough.

      Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said:

      “Cumbria and Lancashire CRC is not delivering effective probation supervision. Our inspection found poor practices that frequently failed to tackle offending or protect the public. We expect probation professionals to assess each case and tailor supervision to the individual. Here, we found staff failed to assess cases properly and missed opportunities to lay solid foundations for the work that follows. Key information, such as a clear explanation of how and why offending took place, was frequently missing. Worryingly, there is a lack of information from other agencies such as children’s social care. Greater attention should have been paid to protecting actual and potential victims. This was particularly concerning in cases that involved domestic abuse or safeguarding concerns for children and adults. Where a member of staff should have conducted a home visit to assess and manage potential risks, we found only a third had been completed.”

      The CRC is one of six owned by Sodexo, a multinational private company. Inspectors noted some issues, such as ineffective management oversight, had been raised with the parent company following other inspections but had not been addressed in Cumbria and Lancashire.

      Inspectors found the CRC struggled to manage complex cases. The national shortage of probation officers, including in the North West, means the CRC has insufficient numbers of qualified staff.

      The report added that some of the CRC's premises were described by staff as “not fit for purpose”.

      Dame Glenys added:

      “We found this CRC’s assessments for individuals sentenced to unpaid work were some of the least effective that we have seen so far. Staff only considered the risk of potential harm to the public in half of the inspected cases. We found instances where information about the use of weapons, threats to others and restraining orders were not recorded. This increases the risk of danger on placements, and diminishes the opportunities to protect the public. We have made seven recommendations to improve the quality of work at Cumbria and Lancashire CRC. There is much to do. Leaders need to make better efforts to deliver the improvements that must now follow.”

      Trevor Shortt, director of community operations at Sodexo, said:

      "The overall rating of ‘requires improvement’ is in line with the majority of other CRCs across the country. HMIP's previous inspection in 2017 concluded that the Cumbria and Lancashire CRC was delivering some of the best work in the country. We have further invested in and developed the CRC since then and do not recognise the organisation described by the inspectorate in this report. Reducing re-offending and protecting the public remain our key priorities. We will be responding in full to the inspector on the recommendations made in due course.”

    3. "The overall rating of greedy, lying don't-give-a-shit-monkeys is in line with the majority of other CRCs across the country. So we ain't bovvered."

      Fixed it for you, Mr Shortttttt.

  6. I work in a Court Team. I don't know anyone who uses the EPF in the way it is designed. No-one uses it to inform sentencing proposals, we all do it retrospectively to tick a box. There's a timer on it but we all just do it just before sentencing actually happens even though this can cause a delay in Court. It's use is heavily monitored. The EPF is useful for finding what interventions are in available in other areas but that's it. Otherwise everyone uses the tried and tested method of formulating a proposal while interviewing the offender and discussing it with them there and then. No-one goes out and does the EPF after the interview to make a decision and I don't know anyone who has changed their proposal once they've used the tool. Any changes to sentencing,in my opinion, is coincidental - and most likely linked to not proposing SSO's and a push toward Programmes, not related to the EPF being rolled out. Maybe other Court Staff have a different opinion but this to me, is another one of those examples where the management view of what we are doing is completely different to reality.

  7. Here's another good acronym that Probation are using a lot.
    Its been widely used and extremely liberating.

  8. Another way of tackling bias would be to compile reports during three-week adjournments and test the report through gatekeeping. If she really championed professional judgment she would allow time for it to be exercised. The problem is managerialism and its robotic diktats.

    1. Here here since the split PSRs in our area are rubbish and clearly mostly copied and pasted The names in them change and spelling and grammar is awful but the worst change is there is no thoughtful analysis or balance in them It’s such a shame that such a valuable piece of probation work has been dumbed down in this way They aren’t worth the paper they’re written on

  9. The lead article is an extract from a magazine produced by the Probation Institute where a load of has been, never beens and wannabes from across the spectrum (or the divide) from ‘practitioner, academic and senior leader,’ try to persuade us that we’re all in it together.
    These are the self same people who have not only sucked it up since TR because it’s good for them, but have wanted the rest of us to swallow the snake oil!

  10. My sentiments also 1033. I work in a Court team also however Court timing don't allow it to me completed prior to completion of Oral reports. I agree the change in sentencing practice is nothing to do with EPF. My theory is MOJ have paid a vast ammount for this 'tool' and are trying to justify its existence. The 'spin doctors' don't even believe their words

    1. The real real reason for the EPF is to make more money for the struggling CRC's by recommending more of the interventions that they provide.

  11. I think that the comments on here today on a number of different subjects just go to prove that we don’t trust ‘them’.

  12. Seetec still expecting staff to use their new computer system. Just creating more chaos for staff especially now we are being put back to nps why do we need a system that no-one else uses. Or is this going to be another dodgy deal with the government and the system will be sold to nps.

    1. I don’t understand why staff think they are being put back to nps that’s never going to happen CRC staff are more likely to be transferred to the new private intervention companies if they’re lucky enough to be covered by any tupe type agreement ?

    2. Appreciate it’s your opinion but staff in NPS have high case loads already, CRC staff have high case loads, bring all the cases under one roof and of course you’re going to need to transfer staff back to NPS or they’ll be no staff to manage the cases! I think everyone will be watching how it all pans out in Wales as this will be a good indicator of what will happen to the rest of us

    3. Sadly I think there remains an element within NPS that thinks CRC work is "easy" because it's "just" low and medium risk cases, and they see the reintegration as them getting a bit of respite from a full caseload of high risk cases.

      Having done both types of work, I wouldn't go so far as to say the reverse is true, but high risk cases attract a lot more monitoring and intervention than low and medium - who are often best described as "not high risk yet".

    4. High risk cases may mean more monitoring etc but at least nps have resources to do that. Very little support for crc staff when risk is escalating and nod refuse to take it.

    5. @13:19 Yes, that was what I meant - didn't express myself clearly. Greater potential for joint working with police, psychologists via PD services etc. I saw a CRC case today that was an NPS case in all but name - only not assessed as high risk because his index offence was driving-related. An SFO of the near future, I suspect

    6. “PD services” !! Don’t make me laugh. “PD services” is the biggest money-spinning and time-wasting load of shite probation have ever invested in.

    7. I wouldn't know. I work in a CRC so my cases don't have access to them.