It is clear that we need to improve the confidence of sentencers in some aspects of probation delivery

Expert voice: Darren Thompson, Head of Stakeholder Engagement, National Probation Service – North East Division

Posted on 18 Mar in

What changes do you see happening in the field of community sentences in the next twelve months?

Firstly, there are changes being introduced in April 2019 to improve the arrangements for resettlement of offenders back in to the Community following serving a custodial sentence. This is known as the ‘Through the Gate’ (TtG) service.  CRCs are contracted to deliver this service. We will work closely with Prisons and Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) colleagues to make sure these arrangements improve the current arrangements.

Secondly, later in 2019 we will be introducing the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) model. This aims to improve the work done during a custodial sentence to address needs of offenders, and improve resettlement back in to the community, linking in with the TtG service.

Finally, later in 2019 we expect the outcomes from the MoJ consultation – Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence, which closed in September 2018. Changes to the model for probation are not due to be made until later in 2020.

What’s the most exciting innovation that the NPS in your area is working on right now?

  • We have been working in conjunction with Durham Tees Valley CRC for some time now within our Court Team in Teesside Magistrates Court. This involves a CRC officer working within the NPS Court Team, providing information on CRC services, and updates on orders for CRC clients. We are currently working with West Yorkshire CRC to implement the same arrangements in courts in Leeds and Bradford. We are pleased that this innovation was quoted in the MoJ consultation referred to above.
  • To respond to sentencer feedback about wanting more information about progress on community sentences I have worked with our 5 CRCs in the North East to develop performance reports, which show the progress made on a range of community interventions, including case studies on individual cases.
  • We have a pilot, working jointly within a court and linked to prison remand issues to identify cases where bail options can be proposed in the community to prevent remands into custody. In the same Court we are also looking at early identification of health assessments and better of information transfer to the Prison. This is a joint project between NHS England, court, probation and prison colleagues.
  • We have put a lot of effort during 2018/2019 to hold regular service user involvement meetings and forums, and use the feedback received to improve the services we offer. This has led to specific projects to – improve accommodation provision, working with a number of local authorities – improving education and training opportunities, working in conjunction with our partner agency APM – and starting to look at introducing peer mentoring.

What’s the biggest barrier that you are facing in your work, and how are you tackling it?

Not so much a barrier, but our biggest challenge at present is responding to a national survey of sentencers late in 2018. It is clear that we need to improve the confidence of sentencers in some aspects of probation delivery. This is also apparent in the Centre for Justice Innovation report ‘Renewing Trust: How can we improve the relationship between probation and courts’.

This will be a key focus for Probation nationally during 2019, but is my top priority for action in the NPS North East.