Effective probation is, in many circumstances, a collaboration between local services, including the police, employment services, housing agencies and others

Transforming probation

Posted on 28 Mar in

Phil Bowen

The Probation Inspectorate report today highlights what has become clear to many over the past few years: Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have failed. With companies pulling out of contracts, community sentences down, public safety compromised and orders of the court left unfinished, a new approach is needed. This is why we, along with a number of other organisations, have been working together to develop a clear, pragmatic and evidence-based vision of the future.

At the Centre, we have approached the notion of a new restructure with a heavy heart. Probation services in England and Wales have been re-organised four times since 2000. It is unclear that any of these reorganisations have led to improved outcomes — indeed we are impressed that outcomes have remained relatively positive in a period of such turmoil.

But it is now unavoidable that a new way needs to be found. Along with fellow organisations, we are keen to seize the opportunity that lies before Government to fix a broken system. At the heart of that new vision is the evident fact that probation is fundamentally a community service. It is responsible for understanding the assets available in local communities, working with its local courts, working with those it supervises to connect them up with local services, working with local partners (especially the police) and being aware of the day-to-day reality of the communities in which offenders live. Effective probation is, in many circumstances, a collaboration between local services, including the police, employment services, housing agencies and others. We believe that this principle of local collaboration should be embedded within any new probation structure.

With a more local probation structure, it will be necessary for probation to have a clear voice nationally, to the public, to parliament, and to the Ministry and Whitehall.  The police, by dint of their size and public importance, can rely on their voice being heard through organisations like the Police Chiefs Council. However, relying, as the police do, on an association of senior leaders has not previously proved successful in probation. Instead, we argue that a national strategic focus can be created using emulating the model of the Youth Justice Board, an independent non-executive agency presided over by a prominent chairperson. A similar arrangement, with a small executive staff, created from existing HMPPS resources, would give probation an independent, national voice. This would separate probation and prisons, providing a much a clearer distinction between the two services, and helping reinforce their separate identities, focus and professional expertise.

As we continue to discuss the future model of probation with our partners, we are putting forward the more radical view that new local probation areas should, at their local basic community levels, be formed of multi-disciplinary offender management teams, embedding police and social services within offender management as happens in Youth Offending Teams (YOTs). Moreover, new probation teams should broaden their responsibilities, providing short interventions and assistance to offenders given out of court disposals and new deferred prosecution options (currently being considered by the Ministry).

This extension of the remit of probation into a more general Adult Offending Service will require a combination of Government and local authority funding and would only be possible if new money is found. One sensible way forward to raise more money for justice could be for the Government to implement the new ‘Crime and Justice’ Precept, recommended in a report by Crest Advisory. As the report highlights, PCCs already raise revenue for policing through the Police Precept, but at present lack a separate mechanism to generate funding for new or improved criminal justice services in their area. This new precept would help inject new funds into public safety.

The principles that we have crafted with our partners show Government a way forward. We hope they have the determination and insight to build a probation service that keeps our communities safer.

The Centre for Justice Innovation is a member of the Probation Alliance, you can read the Principles for a Future Probation Model here.