Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report


Supplementary note by Mr David Fraser and Mr Peter Coad


  ACOP in its introductory summary of written evidence defines the purpose of the Probation Service as a Service to the courts and the public by:

    1.  Supervising offenders in the community.

    2.  Helping offenders lead law abiding lives.

    3.  To protect the public.

    4.  To reduce reoffending.

    5.  To rehabilitate the offender.

  As far as the supervision of criminals is concerned, their failure is dramatic.

  The vast majority of offenders on probation are without remorse and unmotivated to reform. The majority are on a basic probation order, many for a two year period. The contact requirement over a two year period according to National Standards is a basic 18 hours. To claim that such superficial supervision for persistent offenders is effective is nonsense.

  The majority on probation are males under the age of 30 years. The low statistic of the over 30 years age group aggregated with the under 30 years much higher statistic shows a misleading 62 per cent. The average reconviction rate of the 18-29 age group are a more realistic 67 per cent. Calculated on the same basis, Probation Centre reconviction rates are 78 per cent and Combination Orders is 66 per cent. All those statistics seen against a 4.9 per cent detection rate suggests a reoffending rate of over 90 per cent. Clearly such reoffending rates do not protect the public, it does not reduce offending and does not rehabilitate offenders. Community Service Orders also have disappointing reconviction rates. For males in the 18-29 age group the reconviction rate is nearly 60 per cent.

  The above statistics are taken from Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Issue 6/97 dated 24 March 1997. (They can be seen in Annex D in our original submission*[73]).

  The anti-prison lobby often complain that, due to lack of resources, most probationers do not get the well structured programmes that would be so helpful to them. Probation Centre Orders, the supervision flagships of the Probation Service, provide numerous courses designed to meet special/individual needs of clients. Yet they have the highest reconviction rates of all types of supervision.

  Persistent offenders can not be programmed to reform. It must be the decision of the individual; we all know that from our own lives.

  When giving oral evidence it was pointed out to John Hicks that as the prison population increased the crime rate was falling. Nevertheless, he still stuck to his ideological guns that too many people are in prison. He would still rather keep persistent offenders in society victimising the general public. In spite of insisting that community supervision must be effective he still defends failed probation policies.

  In his oral evidence, John Hicks claimed that 72 per cent of probation orders and 71 per cent of community service orders are successfully completed. Successful completion means that, in spite of further conviction while under supervision, as long as courts allow the order to be completed, the case is deemed to be successful; the probationer might have committed scores of crimes.

  In an awesome example of linguistic gobbledegook, the Greater Manchester Probation Service in one of their propaganda papers, describes their success rate in the following terms, "83 per cent of probation orders achieved successful completion, mostly by the offender meeting these requirements and obligations but, including with this definition of success, those cases requiring enforcement action by the supervisor, where the court concludes that the purpose of the order can be sustained".

  In Section 7, pages 11 and 12 of ACOP's written submission, there is the claim that "75-90 per cent successful completion of Orders is remarkable". Indeed the claim is nothing less than remarkable considering the official Home Office statistics.

  In a survey of 30 per cent of CPO annual reports to probation committees, the average rate of success claimed was 83 per cent. It is no wonder that magistrates express satisfaction with the Probation Service.

  On page 4 of ACOP's written evidence, they still make the ridiculous comparison between the annual cost of a probation order at £2,280 and prison at £24,178 and conclude that probation is cheaper. Such a comparison takes no account of the £30 billion estimate of the cost of crime to the nation. For persistent offenders, prison is a bargain that must not be ignored. The £2,280 for probation is simply the administrative cost of supervision.

  On page 3 of the written evidence, there is a reference to bail hostels which "provide 24 hour surveillance and monitoring . . .". That is yet another astonishing claim. With slight local variations, bailees are free to roam committing crimes at will from 7.30 am to 11.30 pm, unsupervised and unmonitored. Bail hostels are considered a menace by the police.

  In Section 7, page 11 of ACOP's paper, there is a reference to the Kent Reconviction Study 1991, cited to support the alleged success of the Probation Service. The full title of the research is "The Kent Reconviction Study: A Five Year Survey of Reconvictions amongst Offenders made subject to Probation Orders in 1991". This survey has been given much publicity by ACOP and other anti-prison organisations. It purports to compare the "success" rates of those discharged from prison with probationers supervised by the Kent Probation Service. This research is remarkable in that:

  1.  It attempts to compare prison and probation reconviction rates while admitting that "we were unable to obtain prison data due to constraints of time".

  2.  To support the validity of the research, it states that it extracted its information from the Kent Probation Service PROBIS database. PROBIS is a notoriously misleading database and is currently being replaced by the Home Office.

  3.  The most remarkable achievement of the Kent research is that it was published five months ahead of the five year period. Who but the anti-prison lobby would apply such uncritical appraisal to such a flawed piece of research? What faith can be applied to a researcher unable to count up to five?

  The Kent study refers to "pseudo reconvictions", a statistical ploy to reduce the reality of reconviction rates. Pseudo reconvictions are offences for which a probationer is convicted during the course of supervision but actually committed before the probation order was imposed. The generally accepted reduction is 4 per cent. That sounds all very reasonable until it is pointed out that no such allowance is made for crimes committed during the course of a probation order but dealt with after the period of probation has terminated. This is yet another example of deception; we ignore it on the basis that the two statistics will even out.

  We refer to the Summary, page 1 and page 6. Colin Roberts of the Probation Studies Unit at Oxford University is referred to as "independent of ACOP". While we in no way impugn the integrity of Mr Roberts we do question his judgement and independence of ACOP. The wife of Mr Roberts is Jenny Roberts, Chief Probation Officer of Hereford and Worcester, an active member of ACOP and we think, a former chairman of ACOP. We are of the opinion that Mr Roberts is of the same ideological mould as ACOP.

  A research document by Mrs Roberts, published in 1994 "Young Offenders Project 1984-1989: Discovering what works" was evaluated by her husband; we were surprised that a 68 per cent reconviction rate was presented as a success. We noted that the paper by Colin Roberts commissioned by ACOP to support their evidence refers to "evidence of likely effective interventions of community sentences . . ." This is marked in contrast to the confidence in the effectiveness of community supervision evident in much of the other ACOP evidence.

  The Probation Service has inflicted a self-imposed embargo on recommending custodial sentences. There is no rule stopping them, only their ideology. The Probation Service also has the capability of predicting the likelihood of reoffending, not only from their own professional experience but also by using well tried predictor processes. The Offender Group Reconviction Scale is a good example. Some probation areas have used this device but never include such vital information in their Pre Sentence Reports. We understand that they are used to target those most likely to be sent to prison so that sentencers can be encouraged to use community based sentences. Clearly sentencers are not to be trusted with this information. So much for ACOP's claim that protecting the public is a priority.

  We remind the Select Committee of the evidence presented by Professor Ken Pease who pointed out that "comparison of sentence effects must take place on a level playing field, ie not one upon which ideology, professional self-interest or kindliness give an unwarranted advantage to community sentences". Thus to compare the effectiveness of prison with probation, logically effectiveness must be judged from the dates both sentences start. Therefore a 21 year old given a prison sentence incarcerating him for a total of two years will have no reconvictions during that two year period compared with a 66 per cent reconviction rate for a probationer of the same age group.

  We have not responded to all the oral and written evidence submitted by ACOP. We believe however, that this paper provides sufficient evidence to demolish the validity of most of their evidence.

David Fraser

Peter Coad

10 February 1998

73   Not printed. Back

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