At Teeside Magistrates’ Court, Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) has worked with local NPS staff to support the use of community sentences by embedding a Probation Service Officer (PSO) in the National Probation Service (NPS) Court team. The PSO works to of ensure that the court team has access to up-to-date information on CRC services and facilitates the provision of updates on the progress of offenders being sentenced while under CRC supervision.
The project originated in discussions between local CRC and NPS managers on improving the information exchange which took place in early 2015. It got its formal start in late 2015 when a CRC PSO was permanently assigned to work with the NPS court team.
The PSO provides two kinds of information. Firstly they keep the team informed about developments in CRC support services. They are able to provide detailed information about the aims and structure of programmes and the profile of suitable offenders as well as more practical information such as opening hours and waiting times.
Secondly, they liaise with CRC ROs to obtain updates on of offenders who are being sentenced while under CRC supervision. Updates cover the progress made on current order, levels of engagement, any factors which may have changed the level of risk and specific issues which might preclude the use of certain requirements. The information obtained is used to supplement existing PSRs or support the writing of new ones.
A number of steps have been taken to ensure that the PSO does not play an inappropriate role in sentencing. Beyond adhering firmly to the principle that they do not have a right of audience in the court room, they have no role in the process of developing sentence recommendations and are accommodated separately from main NPS office in court where case discussions with solicitors or courts staff often take place.
As a relatively new initiative, the approach has not been evaluated. But stakeholders from the NPS identify two benefits. Firstly, being able to provide detailed and specific information about CRC services has increased magistrates’ awareness of the content of community sentences, allowing them to make more informed choices about using them. Secondly, having rich, up to date information on offenders’ engagement with CRCs allows PSR writers to make more appropriate recommendations. This has potentially improved offenders’ compliance with orders and facilitated their progress towards desistance.
Stephen Whitehead is the head of Evidence and Data at the Centre for Justice Innovation. He leads our work on Community Sentences.