It’s fair to say that Transforming Rehabilitation has had an adverse – dangerous even – impact on the ability of probation staff to manage the risk of their clients and keep the public safe.
Before the service was butchered, categorising clients either high, medium or low risk meant workload could be shared, there were ample opportunities for staff development, and most importantly, cases could be easily escalated to a more experienced officer if anything changed.
Now what we have is high risk clients supervised in the NPS and medium/low risk by private companies. So why is this a problem? Risk is far from static and can change many times during the course of an order. Stats pre-TR showed that up to 25% of cases moved from high to medium risk and vice versa.
In March, the HMI Probation report commented on just how complicated the process has become. “The way that probation services are now delivered is not straightforward. The NPS and CRCs have inter-related responsibilities. Cases must pass to and fro between the NPS and CRCs when they leave court after sentence, if risks change noticeably during probation supervision or if enforcement is needed in a CRC case.”
The definition of medium risk includes people who have been convicted of violence, sexual matters, burglary, robbery, domestic violence and are known gang members. As long as the person appears stable at the point of assessment, they can be classified as medium risk regardless of the seriousness of the offence.
But we all know that the probation population is not necessarily a stable group of individuals. They can have multiple problems or be exposed to a variety of triggers such as alcohol use, financial problems, access to children etc., which can cause risk levels to rise, often very rapidly.
Risk levels therefore need to be kept under constant review and this too has been found wanting under TR. The HMIP Report states: “This (constant review) is particularly important in relation to any changes in the risks that an individual poses to others. Review can lead to changes in the priorities and plans for the individual being supervised. In practice, we find that cases are often reviewed in anticipation of HMI Probation inspection. Our aggregate data shows that reviews are not focused sufficiently on keeping people safe. In NPS divisions we have inspected, there is room for improvement, but the position is markedly worse in the CRCs we have inspected.”
If further notes: “Assessment work is good or outstanding in NPS divisions we have inspected, but it most often requires improvement in CRCs we have inspected. In one CRC we have found the risk of harm assessments seriously compromised, because of commercial pressures”.
This is deeply worrying as is the finding: “There are fault lines in the current probation model that require active daily management. In one in four cases we find important and relevant information missing, as the NPS decides whether or not an individual is medium or low risk and therefore to be supervised by a CRC.”
And again from HMIP: “We have found real difficulties arising because the assessment of an individual and comprehensive information relevant to the risk posed by the individual is not kept in one place and not always kept up to date. Information falls between the cracks, and between one organisation and another.”
In both reviewing risk, working to manage it and to reduce reoffending, it’s a no brainer that direct face-to-face contact with offenders under supervision is vital.
However, both arms of the probation service are currently overworked and understaffed. The NPS has lost a large number of experienced staff through burnout and they face recruitment difficulties. The CRCs meanwhile cannot compete with them to recruit experienced probation officers and shed much of their as a way of trying to make contracts operable and profitable. CRCs have therefore resorted in many cases to cutting personal contact and replacing it with telephone reporting and remote reporting using the kiosk system.
The HMIP Report states: “A relationship needs to be formed, but up to 40% of individuals under supervision in some CRCs have been supervised by telephone only, usually following an initial meeting and assessment. Our recently published rapid evidence assessment of the effectiveness of remote supervision more generally confirms that there is no evidence to suggest that supervision by telephone alone is effective. HMPPS has recently introduced a new requirement for CRCs to plan for face-to-face meetings to take place at least monthly. This transactional measure will not of itself deliver an effective relationship.”
Under these circumstances it is hard not to be concerned about the risk to the public. The rise in serious further offences committed by offenders since TR is alarming.
A recent FOI request revealed that there has been a 46% rise in SFOs since TR was introduced! This increase prompted Dame Glenys Stacey to say in her March report: “The number of SFO convictions has never been a valid indicator of the quality of probation supervision. When an offender is being supervised in the community, it is simply not possible to eliminate risk altogether, but the public is entitled to expect that the authorities will do their job properly – that is, to take all reasonable action to keep risk to a minimum. A statistically significant increase in the proportion of cases in which a SFO is committed would inevitably raise questions.”
Napo believes that the TR agenda has undermined public protection procedures and places communities at risk of harm from poorly managed offenders.
Napo will be hosting a drop-in session for MPs on 1st of May to put this, and seven other reasons to reunify the probation service to MPs.
If you haven’t already done so, complete the postcard and send it back to your local MP encouraging them to join the fight to make sure the probation service is able to rehabilitate clients, keep the public safe and to protect your profession.
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