The growing use of technology to supervise individuals on probation offers no conclusive benefits, according to new research published by HM Inspectorate of Probation. The research did not find evidence to suggest remote supervision leads to better outcomes.
More than 250,000 people are under probation supervision across England and Wales. Typically, probation officers supervise individuals through regular face-to-face meetings. Some Community Rehabilitation Companies – who are responsible for supervising low and medium-risk offenders – have turned to technology instead.
Some individuals are limited to telephone contact only and call their probation officer every six weeks or so. Others use electronic kiosks to check in at an office and do not see a probation officer during their visit.
Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: “We have long expressed concerns about telephone-only contact. This research shows there is a lack of high-quality evidence to prove remote supervision helps to rehabilitate individuals or improve public protection.
“Despite strong evidence showing the critical role of the relationship between the individual and the probation officer, it is not protected within the current model of probation service delivery. CRCs have been able to implement operating models that allow telephone-only contact with up to 40 per cent of individuals under supervision.
“In October, HM Prison and Probation Service introduced a new contractual requirement so CRCs have to offer face-to-face meetings at least once a month. While welcome, this change does not guarantee an effective relationship or ensure that risks to the public are adequately considered. The evidence base shows that successful probation delivery is linked to the quality of the relationship, and the frequency of meeting depends on the work that needs to be done.
“We take the simple view that you need to see people in order to support them to change their lives. It is difficult for a probation officer to build a trusting and challenging relationship with an individual under supervision if they only communicate by telephone.”
The research, which was conducted by academics at Manchester Metropolitan University, looked at more than 22,000 research articles published since 2007.
Dame Glenys said: “We are not against the use of technology in probation delivery. However, it should complement face-to-face meetings, rather than be a substitute for it. For example, a probation officer might find it helpful to have a catch-up telephone call with an individual between meetings or to check how a course is going.
“Contact solely by telephone or other forms of technology does not offer anywhere near the level of supervision that we want to see.”