When even the potential bidders for new contracts are concerned (as featured in a report by Danny Shaw to the Today Programme on 29th July) about the viability it is ever more important to be clear about what would make a difference in the Probation System. Here are Napo’s four key demands for the future of Probation.
In re-designing Probation it is vital that lessons are learned from the profound failure of “Transforming Rehabilitation” (TR). Simply re-drawing the line between the public and private provision is not enough to repair all of the damage done.
Fully integrated service provision
In all of the varied criticisms of TR the split in service provision was universally acknowledged as a cause for poor service provision, increased bureaucracy, duplication of work and communication issues. We demand a fully integrated and unified service, with all core functions, including unpaid work and interventions, delivered from a single organisation in an integrated way. This doesn’t preclude the involvement of specialist provision by the third sector in a partnership arrangement but ensures that the management and delivery of core services is done in a joined up way.
In the public sector and never for profit but out of the civil service and released from prison
No one should profit from crime and so no one should profit from the delivery of Justice as a result of those crimes. The delivery of Probation Services belongs in the public sector however the move to the Civil Service as a result of TR has meant that the National Probation Service is now overly bureaucratic and follows a top down “command and control” culture. This means that the responsivity to local priorities that was once a key feature of Probation has been lost and innovation is reserved to those promoted to senior positions rather than open to all. Probation Officers are, as part of their training, encouraged to think critically about the work that they are doing and the systems in which they are doing it. This is almost impossible from within the Civil Service where criticism of the establishment is forbidden.
For many years Probation has struggled for recognition and focus against the forced partnership with the Prison Service. Although we recognise the advantages of working closely with our colleagues in the Prison Service we are not an adjunct to that service and while there are many areas where our work and ways of working, align there are also many areas where they do not. While the senior roles in HMPPS are predominantly held by those with a background in the Prison Service and while the second ‘P’ in HMPPS is generally silent it is difficult for the Probation Service to focus on developing its own culture and values.
Our demand is for Probation Services to exist outside of the Civil Service but in the public sector, as a non-departmental government body in the same way as organisations like CAFCASS and many others. This would allow for a degree of consistency through a national structure but would enable the development of culture and values that support Probation Practice.
Built on evidence based practice
There is a wealth of evidence about how to support people to desist from offending. Research into desistance and risk assessment and management is abundant. Little of this knowledge is being employed in redesigning Probation Services. Much of the pressure that staff leaving the service describe is about being asked to work in ways which they feel are not good practice at best or dangerous at worst. There is no sign of these lessons being learned. In addition there have been attempts to silence those who raise concerns about practice and the evidence of a need for change has been suppressed for example in the case of the report detailing concerns about SOTP in prisons.
At the same time as the feted reintegration of offender management work following TR the other big project is the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) project. OMiC builds in multiple changes of Offender Manager despite the fact that such changes were criticised so much in the TR model that it caused a significant change of policy and move to the reintegration.
All Probation Practice should be based on evidence and changes should be made to ways of working when indicated by research and evidence. Best practice should be modelled on this research and evidence, not the convenience of the organisation or the needs of a contract.
Rooted in the local community and partnering with local specialist providers
Probation is about people and people exist in communities. The link to the community is vital and must be prioritised. What works in one village, town or city might not work elsewhere. There must be a facility to respond to local needs and priorities and to shape service delivery to suit. Frontline practitioners must be empowered to work in a way that meets the needs of both their client and their community rather than to an agenda set centrally
There are many third sector providers working in response to local needs that might be excellent partners for Probation Services, either as a contractor or in other arrangements. Sadly many of these very local services were simply frozen out of the system due to TR but where they exist they should be involved in the delivery of services in an appropriate way. Large contracts are not the way to deliver such innovative and responsive partnerships as smaller third sector organisations cannot compete with large companies better able to offer cash guarantees and present artificially low bids. There should never be a separation between Probation Services and other services but working together in a joined up way is often impossible when there is no local control of the system.
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This blog will be the start of a series of articles expanding on Napo's demands.