Sentencers remain largely in the dark about what happens after they sentence someone to a community sentence

Renewing trust: our latest report into the relationship between the courts and probation

Posted on 11 Jan in

 

Stephen Whitehead

 

As we have previously highlighted, this decade has seen a worrying decline in the use of community sentences in England and Wales. The Centre has been working to understand the causes of that decline and find tools which can reverse it.

Our latest report Renewing Trust: How we can improve the relationship between courts and probation, continues this working, focusing on how the relationship between probation and judges and magistrates. In the report, we found that:

  • The relationship between courts and probation has been buffeted by series of reforms, most notably the split of probation into Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS).
  • Court timeliness targets and closures have hampered the ability of probation to deliver high quality pre-sentence advice. For example, the use of the most comprehensive written reports (Standard Delivery Reports) has fallen by 89% in six years and now stands at only 3% of all reports – less than a third of the national target.
  • Sentencers’ concerns about the delivery of community sentences are being driven by:
    • a lack of information about the services provided by CRCs;
    • a lack of transparency about the new Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR);
    • barriers to dialog between CRCs and sentencers about community sentence options;
    • serious concerns about the quality of the work of CRCs when these are exposed in breach proceedings; and
    • concerns about availability of substance misuse and mental health treatment requirements for offenders, the use of which has fallen by 50%.
  • Sentencers remain largely in the dark about what happens after they sentence someone to a community sentence and have few opportunities to witness progress and compliance with court orders.  There is no routine process by which sentencers’ perceptions of community sentences are gathered.

We have identified a range of practical approaches which might address these issues including:

  • New sentencing council guidance on the use of PSRs
  • More discretion for NPS courts staff over the types of court used
  • Rolling out embedded CRC staff at courts
  • A greater role for probation in magistrates’ training
  • Expanding the current community sentence treatment requirement pilots.

We will continue to explore ways to support and improve the use of community sentences over the coming year, so please do get in touch if you have comments on the report or views on where we should turn next.