Napo’s response to the HMIP Thematic Report on Drugs – August 2021

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Napo members will be frustrated to read this report detailing the many failings of the failed experiment in probation privatisation that was Transforming Rehabilitation (TR). This report is released just weeks after Dame Carol Black has issues her Review of Drugs part two making recommendations for multi-agency, whole system partnership approach with ring-fenced funding.

Declining service provision before and through TR

Many Napo members will recall the former Drug Intervention Programme (DIP) which operated up to 2013. This offered a genuine multi-agency approach to supporting those leaving prison who had drug misuse issues. DIP reduced acquisitive crime by a third but ended in 2013 and even though there were some local attempts to replace it these largely ended in 2014-15 because of TR.

TR brought with it a wholesale disinvestment in provision of probation services. This applied across the CRCs and the NPS. The NPS had to invest early on in infrastructure and was always behind in achieving the appropriate staffing levels. Almost every year since 2014 when the NPS was created Trade Unions were told that staffing would reach steady state in the next 2 years but that steady state was never achieved. Some CRCs made staff redundant early on, some left it until later in their contracts, others relied on not replacing the huge numbers of staff who left. Across all employers there was an increase in retirements and an increase in turnover generally. In 2014-15 there was a TR related baby boom as many women staff timed their plans to take maternity leave to give them respite from the chaos in the workplace. The loss of skilled and experienced staff from the probation system will take many years to recover from and unification is not the answer some might think it is. We are now losing staff who just cannot cope with more organisational change, and also staff who cannot tolerate the excessive workloads and are disappointed to find that the new unified service just brings all of the staffing issues together – it resolves nothing.

Courts and Pre Sentence Reports

Drug treatment requirements have become more difficult for Probation staff working in Courts to arrange. This is because the staff working in Courts are employed by the National Probation Service and up to unification the CRCs were responsible for delivering the requirements. Added to this the push for ever speedier justice means that adjournments for pre-sentence report enquiries are rare. Adjournments are generally needed to allow for proper assessments for treatment requirements but for lower risk cases it can be a huge challenge for Court staff to persuade sentencers to have any type of pre-sentence report, never mind one which will require an adjournment for a few days. The HMIP report highlights the number of people sentenced without any pre-sentence report and this is a real concern, no one can be sentenced to a treatment requirement without a pre-sentence report so they should be mandatory in cases where drug misuse is a factor.

Drug review Courts have also disappeared in most cases and these should be reintroduced to support sentence confidence in treatment requirements as well as to promote engagement and progress for those subject to the requirements. There is real value in sentencers seeing the progress made, sharing in the discussion of challenges being faced and the work done to motivate and support clients to make positive changes to their lives. There is also huge value for clients in participating in this dialogue and feeling themselves to be an active participant with equal stake in the process post-sentence. Much is made of developing social capital and attending drug review Court hearings is a very real way of doing this.

Specific interventions and sentence management

Prior to TR most Probation Trusts operated with specialist teams to work with clients subject to Drug Rehabilitation Requirements and other relevant sentences. These teams were often co-located with the partner agencies who provided the treatment and wrap around services. It is encouraging that a return to this model is recommended and we hope this can be achieved however there will need to be further and significant investment into the system to replace what has been lost. In particular the mantra of resource following risk will be a barrier, most of the cases that are covered by this report will not have been assessed as high risk so will not attract the level of resource that is required to achieve some of the goals.

The report details the need to address some of the underlying issues relating to drug use such as trauma but such work takes time and skill. Contrast this with staff carrying workloads measured at 150% or more of their capacity and the lack of specialist training available to them and the scale of the problem becomes clearer. The Government response that they are recruiting 1000’s of additional Probation Officers is of little use when many of the cases being discussed will be managed by PSO staff. In any case increased recruitment will take some time to make a genuine difference due to the significant loss of staff over the last seven to ten years. The report also highlights the importance of co-ordinating treatment and interventions and supporting and motivating engagement with them. This again is work that required time and skill, and the development of a positive working relationship which is especially challenging when staff have 70 or more clients to work with at any one time.

Some of the recommendations in Dame Carol Black’s review of drugs will support recommendations in the HMIP report however it is difficult to see how staff so overworked and facing significant organisational change as a result of unification of probation will be able to capitalise on this. Training is one way to ensure that probation staff develop and maintain skills in this work but the current focus is solely on system and process based and mandatory training for the staff recently transferred to the Probation Service from other employers and in the professional qualification for trainee Probation Officers. Career development training and the ability to focus on specialism or semi-specialisms seems very far away for most Probation staff at the moment and it will take an estimated 18 months to reach the intended operating model for the unified Probation Service.

Unified Probation Service Operating Model

A search of the unified service operating model reveals only one reference to drugs, in the section describing the limited work of the Community Sentence Treatment Requirement (CSTR) programme. This began in 2017 but has yet to expand to cover all areas. The HMIP report notes that where it exists there are positive improvements but the lack of focus on work with people whose drug misuse is related to their offending in the operating model is very concerning.

Genuinely local multi-agency arrangements need to be reinstated. These must take into account local needs and priorities and will necessarily be different in different areas. This is tricky to do with a centralised model for operations and contracting. The promised improvements to contracting via the dynamic framework of Commissioned Rehabilitation Services (CRS) will not necessarily be the panacea imagined as contracts are awarded centrally and regions can only purchase services or not in the early years, with innovations funds restricted to activities not concerned with delivering the order of the court. This gives little opportunity for local collaboration to meet specific needs.

19 August 2021